Results tagged “technology” from Reformation21 Blog

Wise Technological Parenting

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It is the apex of foolishness for parents to allow their children to have free and unaccountable access to technology-- smart phones, tablets, iPods, computers, etc. Before I explain the reasons why I believe this, I want to make clear, in no uncertain terms, that I'm not a Luddite. I'm not against the advancement and use of modern technological devices. Indeed, I have no desire to go back to the sixteenth-century! Quite the contrary, I'm profoundly grateful for the seemingly endless and valuable functions of iPhones, iPads, and computers. It's wonderful to be able to stay in touch with family and friends around the world through FaceTime and Skype, as well as through social media outlets such as Facebook and Instagram. Even so, there is a dark and insidious side to our brave new world of information and connectivity; and, we would be exceedingly foolish to ignore it. Here are a few reasons why our children should not have free and unrestricted access to technological devices:

Internet Pornography. Internet porn is a pandemic of massive proportions. The statistics related to this wicked industry are staggering (see http://www.covenanteyes.com). The porn industry generates thirteen billion dollars of revenue each year in the United States alone. One in eight online searches is for pornography, and the same goes for one in five searches on mobile devices. Twenty-four percent of smart phone users admit to having pornographic material on their device. Fifty-six percent of divorce cases involve one spouse with a porn addiction.

These statistics do not bode well for our youth. Did you know that nine out of ten boys and six out of ten girls are exposed to pornography before the age of eighteen? The average age that boys first come into contact with porn is twelve, and sixty-eight percent of young adult men (18-24 years old) use porn at least once a week. Nineteen percent of 18-24 year olds have sent a pornographic text (i.e. sext). It is most often during puberty that our youth get addicted to porn. Seventy-one percent of teens hide online activity from their parents, and the kinds of porn that teens access are too repulsive to even mention.

Yes, the problem of porn really is this bad. Having served in youth ministry for over ten years, there was always a steady stream of students confessing to me their deep struggle with internet pornography. Many at age fifteen or sixteen had already been regularly looking at it for several years. Over the course of my ministry I have counseled dozens of men (all ages) struggling with porn addiction. It has caused serious marriage problems.

For most the problem begins in their youth. And this makes sense, doesn't it? Tweens and teens are hormonal, curious, and immature. They are becoming more aware of their bodies and their attraction to the opposite sex. These discoveries and desires are natural and good. But the evil one seeks to twist, corrupt, and pervert these desires. Satan has come to "steal, kill, and destroy" (Jn. 10:10) our covenant children, and he is actively doing so through the porn industry.

To allow our children to have free and unrestricted access to the internet on one or more of their devices is to practically guarantee that they will be exposed to all manner of sexual perversion online-- and the consequences will be long-term. Therefore, any parent that knowingly gives their children this kind of freedom on their devices is acting profoundly foolish.

Ungodly Relationships. The world of social media and mobile connectivity is also causing significant issues among our youth. With little to no parental oversight, youth ages ten and up are privately texting, instant messaging, emailing, and calling friends, acquaintances, and those whom they hardly know. One friend shared with me that their seventh grade granddaughter had sent and received over 10,000 texts in a couple of weeks-- partly because she was texting half the night with her friends. Her parents weren't too happy with the over-usage fees that appeared on their monthly bill!

Many of the friendships and conversations that occur through these media sites would be off-limits if parents actually knew what was being seen and said. How are we to teach, shepherd, and protect our impressionable children if we are ignorant of the substance of their relationships? God's Word teaches us that "Bad company corrupts good character" (I Cor. 15:33). If our children are sending and receiving thousands of texts, instant messages, and emails per month without parental accountability and oversight, then we are being unwise at best.

There is a lot more that we could unpack on this important subject. But for now we must ask, "What should we do?" How should we, as Christian parents, approach these thorny issues related to modern technology? Well, certainly not as the world handles it. The world says to give kids what they want. The world says that kids will be kids, and we should let them sow their wild oats. The world says that everybody's doing it and we shouldn't make such a fuss. The world says that we shouldn't be so prudish. But none of these responses takes into account the word of God and the spiritual health of our children.

Christian parents are commanded to bring up their children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). This entails protecting our children from the deceitfulness of the world, the schemes of Satan, and the foolishness of their youthful hearts. Here are a couple of simple ways to protect our children in our fast moving, technological age:

Password Protect/Block Internet Access. Can anything be more commonsensical? Make sure that every device in your home with internet access is password protected! This includes devices that a friend or neighbor may bring into your home. Make sure that you change your device passwords on a regular basis in case one of your kids may have looked over your shoulder and figured it out. If your child has an iPod, smart phone, tablet, or laptop, be diligent to password protect the internet access on the device and any other apps that might be an avenue for porn or soft porn (e.g. iTunes is full of illicit album and movie covers, and the search engine for Instagram contains a cesspool of filth). If you are unsure how to password protect the web browser on a device simply go online and find out how. If your kids need to get online for a school research project or for some other reason, make sure they do it in a visible location in the home (e.g. living room, kitchen table, etc.). Moreover, it is critical that you prepare your kids for what they might encounter outside the home, and how they should respond in situations where others seek to show them illicit images.

Strict Oversight/Social Media. How many of you would allow strangers to walk into your child's room, talk to them for several hours per day, and show them lots of personal pictures? How many of you would shrug your shoulders if your teenager developed inappropriate online relationships? That's essentially what's happening when we allow our kids to have unrestricted and unsupervised social media, texting, emailing, etc. Parents, it is extremely unwise not to monitor and limit your child's time on social media, especially in the early tween and teen years. Apps like Facebook and Instagram can be fun, but you need to set down clear rules, and consequences for breaking those rules. Also, please be aware that apps like Snapchat are almost impossible for parents to monitor, since images that are sent disappear almost immediately. It is easy to see how Snapchat has become a primary means of sexting among teens. I would recommend that it be deleted from our children's phones.

Of course, as our children get older, and as they approach college years, we need to slowly loosen the reins of parental oversight. One day our covenant children will be out on their own. Hopefully they will have gained some considerable wisdom and maturity before they go. However, especially in the early tween and teen years, they need consistent, firm, and loving oversight.

I realize that I have only scratched the surface of this important subject. Allowing our tweens and early teens carte blanche freedom on their devices is equivalent to letting our toddlers play soccer next to the freeway during rush hour. It's absolutely foolish, plain and simple. If ever we needed to be wise and courageous in our parenting, it is now.

Tuned in Parents on the Technological Frontier

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I am a child of the technological frontier--the brave new world of exciting potential and seemingly limitless possibility. I learned how to type on a typewriter; but, how to spell on a Speak&Spell. As a young boy, I played video games on Commodore 64 and Atari. It wasn't until I was about 12 or 13 that Nintendo became a household object. Our family had one small TV with a rabbit ear antenna. We didn't have cable until the mid-90's. I distinctly remember my mom being enamored with Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death and that she really didn't like me watching the Simpsons or Ren & Stimpy (which I, incidentally, loved watching). I'll never forget the day that my dad walked us into a computer store to buy our first home computer. I was around 10 or 11. The salesman tried to convince my dad that we would never need more than 256 MB of memory (we had absolutely no idea what that meant at the time, but now realize that he had no idea what he was talking about). Neighborhood friends had boxes full of floppy discs--on which they traded video games with each another. When I was 13, one of those friends showed me pornography for the first time on one of those discs. This brave new world of technology was becoming a frightening new world of evil breaking into our neighborhoods and homes. Now, fast-forward 30 years.

Computers, smart phones, video game consoles, held game systems and just about all other electronic devices give us instant access to everything the world has to offer. Our children will grow up in a world of virtual reality and interactive online communities. There are an estimated 4 million pornographic websites online. That number will only increase. What was once filled with shame and indignity is now celebrated and promoted at an alarming rate. Tragically, more and more children from Christian homes are being drawn to cutter websites and pagan forums--often unknown to their parents. Many are simply being secularized through the influence of their friends online. There is no way to know exactly how quickly things are moving or where it is all heading; but, if our parents were concerned about how to protect us from the worldly influences on the radio, videos, magazines and cable TV, how much more do Christian parents need to be informed, alert and vigilant in seeking to protect our children in this day of technological hyper speed!

I've been considering these things with an ever-increasing sense of urgency and sobriety as my sons near the age at which they become more and more susceptible to the allure of the evil in the world. There are several things to which I return again and again as I seek to counsel myself and other parents in our congregation regarding this issue. Here are four things to which we can commit as we labor to bring our children up in a way that is pleasing to the Lord:

 
  1. We Must Make Every Effort to Protect Our Children from the Unwanted Influences of the World.
  This necessitates that we are tuned into what our children are doing. We need to take an interest in what they are watching and in that with which they are involved online. I'm not suggesting that we suffocate or micromanage their lives. However, it is incumbent for us to protect our children, as much as possible, from the evil influences of the world around them. This does not mean that we will not have our children in the community--playing sports and actively involved in community events--or that they will not be allowed to have friends from unbelieving homes. It will mean, however, that we will closely monitor what they are saying and doing in the community and with those friends. It means teaching them what it means to be a witness to Christ to their unbelieving friends. After all, the Apostle Paul, taught the members of the church in Corinth that there was an expectation that they would have relationships with unbelievers:

  "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world" (1 Cor. 5:9-10).

  Protecting our children from the unwanted influences of the world will mean using programs like Covenant Eyes on every electronic device on which we can put them in our homes. It might mean locking down their smart phones so that they cannot download apps that will give them unfiltered or unmonitored access to the internet. It does mean that we should know who they are texting and what is being texted. After all, the world can now reach into the lives of our children in their bedrooms in a way in which it could never in all of human history before the invention of the internet and smart phone.

   
  1. We Must Learn to Talk with Our Children about the Dangers That They Face.
  This is crucial. If we don't speak with our children about the wickedness of the world, rest assured that others will. It's vital for us to come to terms with the fact that we must start talking to our children about the evils with which they will be confronted. Recently, I was speaking with someone who has a friend involved with Backyard Bible Club (a Christian outreach to public school children) in a significant Southern town. The individual to whom I was speaking told me that sex was the overwhelming focus of the conversation of the fourth graders being picking up every week. We must now assume that children are being exposed to conversation about sexual matters at a much younger age than was true for many of us. A few months ago, I wrote a post at the Christward Collective that deals with the necessity of teaching our children the raw portions of Scripture. Teaching our children a biblical view of the blessing of sex and the evil of sexuality immorality is one of the best things that we can do for them. Teaching our children, from God's word, about the forms of evil with which they will be face is vital.

 
  1. We Must Remember that We Can't Change the Hearts of our Children.
  No amount of sheltering our children from the evil of the world without will keep them from acting on the evil of their hearts within. We can neither regenerate our child's heart nor bring him or her to a place of spiritual maturity. We must teach our children the Scriptures, pray with and for them, gather with the people of God for weekly public worship and discipline them in love...but you can't secure results. Only the Spirit of God, taking the finished work of Christ and sovereignly applying it to the hearts and minds of our elect children, can do this work in their hearts. The Spirit of God is the only One who can regenerate our children and He is the only one who can bring our children to spiritual growth and maturity.

 
  1. We Must Seek to Model Godly Living and Marriage in the Home and Church for our Children.
  While we recognize that we are powerless to change our children's hearts, we also recognize that the godly example that parents set in the home is one of the ways that the Lord works in the lives of our children. The means of grace that God has appointed in the church for the salvation of His people (i.e. the word, sacraments and prayer) are complemented by the godly example of believers. If our children see us loving our wives and modeling for them what it means to be a Christian family in the home--delighting in Christ together, as well as being deeply committed to Him in weekly worship and service in the Church--we can expect them to want to follow that example. If our sons see us speaking lovingly to and about our wives and showing affection for them (and for them alone!) that will be a powerful example for them to follow. At the end of the day, we want our children to see how different a Christian home is from the world--not in a fundamentalist or separationist sense, but in a Spirit-filled, word-saturated and Gospel-exalting sense. While I wandered from the Christian home in which I was raised, the godly example my parents set in the home was indelibly etched in my mind and heart. It stayed with me through the years of rebellion and wandering, and, has continued to aid me as my wife and I seek to raise our own children. The importance of godly example is something that is not always emphasized in this regard.

     

A Virtual Reality Check

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Just a few weeks ago, the Oculus Rift started shipping out its Kickstarter units. These virtual reality (VR) headsets have been anticipated for years, especially since Facebook bought the parent company in 2014. At the risk of using a tired word, this new technology will likely become disruptive. So it behooves Christians to ready their minds for this revolution. How should we think about virtual reality?

Like any technology, virtual (or augmented) reality devices offer incredible benefits, yet pose dangerous risks if used wrongly - that is, without concern for real reality, other people, or holiness to the glory of God. In a fallen world, there are always tradeoffs, and since fallen image bearers will be the agents utilizing these headsets, as well as creating the digital content, platforms and experiences, there will be opportunities for both good and evil.

The good that VR devices offer is most apparent in the area of connection and communication. Mark Zuckerberg, announcing Facebook's purchase of Oculus VR, pointed in this direction: "This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures...Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face -- just by putting on goggles in your home." Facetime is great - but what if I could feel like I was actually in the room with you? What if I could immerse myself in the world of those who had suffered, as the New York Times did with its video "Displaced," about three young girls forced from their homes by war? New York Times Magazine Editor Jake Silverstein suggests, "What is clear...is that connecting to characters, to individuals, is one of the real unique qualities of virtual reality." This technology can be used to increase our empathy, our knowledge of the past and the present, and our relationships with loved ones far away.

As Zuckerberg mentions, it seems virtual reality will also become a staple of education, entertainment, gaming, and medicine, not to mention news media information delivery, home buying, travel experiences, research, military training and battle, and whatever else the creativity of man can come up with. Virtual reality devices, then, are one more expression of our obedience to the cultural mandates to subdue and exercise dominion over the earth God created (Genesis 1:28).

Yet these devices must be used with care - not only because of the motion sickness they sometimes cause, but even more because of the spiritual threats they can pose to the unprepared. We will soon be able to communicate in new ways, to be sure. But at what cost? Ironically, the same technologies that connect can also isolate us from relationships. If you are concerned that the members of your family are all staring at their screens instead of engaging one another in conversation, how much more when they are all wearing their VR goggles immersing themselves in their own reality? A television can keep us from true communication, to be sure, but at least everyone often watches the same thing together. Perhaps the technology will advance to enable multiple goggles to share an experience, but it seems more likely at the current time to detract from family cohesiveness rather than contribute toward it.

Along these lines, the use of VR devices for video gaming will only amplify the struggle for those who are already inclined to idolize this hobby to the expense of their family and real reality. A husband who is addicted to an online universe on a screen for hours on end today will tomorrow be able to put on his goggles and be even more disengaged from his wife and children. Not all will succumb to this temptation, but it will be present.

One of the clear possibilities for temptation is in the area of sexuality. The New York Post has termed our day "the Golden Age of masturbation." VR devices will present all manner of opportunities to experience virtual sex, enjoying by yourself (or with an illicit partner) what God has created to be enjoyed with your spouse, and only with your spouse. Are our youth prepared for Satan's attacks through this new tool?

More foundational than even relationships and sexuality are the effects of virtual reality on core aspects of our humanity. As these devices become more accessible, real reality may become less appealing, and the temptation to avoid or escape the difficulties of this life will beset us. The 2009 movie "Surrogates," starring Bruce Willis, is a dystopian vision of how virtual reality can enable us to shut out the real reality of embodied life, living in the here and now in a particular place around particular people. Gnosticism is alive and well in 2016, and the desire to escape our finitude and our bodies is palpable. This is not to say that every desire to do the impossible is wrong. For someone to travel virtually to a place that they will never be able to see actually, or for someone who is wheelchair bound to be able to experience riding a roller coaster, is a rich blessing of human ingenuity and labor. Yet are we aware of the ways in which our technologies can lead us to forget that we are "frail children of dust, and feeble as frail"? That our Savior in the body could only be at one place at one time? That an embodied state is of the essence of our humanity, now and in the age to come?

As with all technologies, we must exercise self-control and sobriety. Paul's words in I Corinthians 6:12 apply well: "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything." May the Lord grant us wisdom to use virtual reality for His glory.

 

Techno-tools

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A couple of recommendations for helpful techno-tools that I appreciate: many of you will know of and use these, but for the few who don't . . .

Dropbox. This is great. Doubtless there are other versions, but this is simple and delightful. You set up an account (the basic one of 250 megabytes is free, others are more expensive), install it on any number of platforms and stick material in your Dropbox file that you want backed up online or available across your platforms. So, say you want to be able to work seamlessly between desktop and laptop, or want to pull up a file to show a friend when you are (horrors!) removed - possibly surgically - from your own devices, then Dropbox allows you to do it. You can even set up public folders for deliberate but limited sharing. Think of it as an automated backup with the added benefit of your stuff floating on a cloud for you to draw on as and when you feel. It has always proved reliable and effective for me, and simplifies stuff no end. Let me make plain that I have a vested interest: if you sign up using these links, both you and I get a bonus 500MB into the bargain. Just saying.

Leechblock. I am sure that there are equivalents for IE, Chrome and other browsers, but if you're a Firefox user, Leechblock is a productivity tool in which you can block certain sites of your choosing for periods of time of your determination, all the while adding appropriate levels of awkwardness in changing your settings (if you are inclined to quickly bypass the blocking). If you find yourself wasting time (well, more time) on certain sites, or spending hours dawdling and following rabbit-trails when you intend to be really searching for something, then Leechblock is a great way to focus the mind and bar swinging doors. You can learn more here or get it as an add-on here.

Hidden in the heart

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We are repeatedly warned that the interweb, not least Google (other search engines are available), is changing the way we think, the way we remember. Tech gurus tell us that no longer do we remember information, we remember where to find it. So, for example, rather than remembering the kings and queens of England, we remember the webpage (or kind of webpage, or way of finding the [kind of] webpage) that supplies us with that information. As a result, no doubt the bit of our brains that deals with such stuff is atrophying at a fair rate of knots, shrinking to some withered non-functionality and waiting to be replaced by smartphones with memories more capacious, better stocked and more readily searched than our own. Alongside such brain-wastage goes an inability to concentrate, an attention span that is degenerating to a point which might make a goldfish wince. Indeed, it is at the end of a paragraph like this that I wonder how many people have already given up because - despite the scintillating prose! - I haven't got to the point yet.

So, let us crack on: I imagine that some readers who have made it this far are - like me - shaking their heads and confessing that, yes, our capacities are shifting if not altogether shrivelling. We no longer remember phone numbers - they are in our contact listings. We no longer remember names of children - we look them up when we go to visit. We no longer remember directions - we switch on our satnav and GPS systems. We may struggle more than we used to in following a train of thought over pages of text, tracing a theme developed over the course of a book, recollecting that data that our lazy brains tell us we can find more easily with a quick text-search than by storing it in our own memory banks for easy retrieval.

And there is one crucial area in which this particularly bites on the believer. It has to do with the Word of God, and it is eminently practical.

In Psalm 119 the psalmist cries out, "Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you" (Ps 119.11). It comes in a stanza in which he is expressing a heartfelt desire for holiness, a determination to seek and serve the Lord and to walk in humble and joyful obedience to his commands.

My point is this: one of the consequences of the internet-trained brain seems to be an inability to hide very much - not much of the Word of God, to be sure - in our hearts. That results in a crippling weakness in the battle for godliness.

If you want to, test yourself. What do you do, where do you look, when you want to find "that verse," you know, the one on the tip of your tongue? Do you flick to BibleWorks or Logos, pull up some Scripture text on your e-platform and do a quick search? Was it ever stored in your heart? Are you looking merely for a reminder, or have you become so accustomed to ready accessibility and easy search that you no longer bother storing it in your heart, unconsciously succumbing to the suggestion that since it's right at your fingertips you don't need to worry? Have you forgotten how to remember?

How long was Christ in the wilderness? Forty days and forty nights. (You know the batteries on pretty much any device have died by then.) What state was he in? Desperately hungry and thirsty. Who came to him? The arch-enemy, the Adversary. What were flung at him? A series of pointed and powerful temptations striking at his very identity and destiny. And what did the Lord do, without the help of any electronic aids or ready-references? He dug into the depths of Deuteronomy to bring forth three perfectly-forged weapons with which to smite the foe, three mighty "Thus says the Lord" declarations which shattered Satan's assault and sent him from the field a beaten foe. The word was hidden in the Saviour's heart, and he did not sin against God.

Look more closely, and you understand what that means. Satan takes and twists Scripture to make his perverted case. The Lord Christ not only knows enough to see through those corrupting quotations, but he has upon his holy lips the fruit of a heart in which the Word of God is thoroughly hidden, the truth stored up in order to be brought forth as occasion demands in order to keep him from sin and in the path of righteousness.

What of you? You have one primary offensive weapon with which to do battle against sin: "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph 6.17). Can you afford to have that potent blade wrapped up in the electronic cobwebs of some computer programme when you need it for the fight? Do you not know from bitter experience that you do not have time to draw the sword from the depths of your electronic device when Satan comes roaring in against you? You need it sitting in your hand, you need it stored up in your heart ready for immediate deployment when the enemy comes upon you unawares. To use a more modern metaphor, you cannot afford to wander this battlefield with all your ammunition stored at the bottom of your backpack; you need your weapon locked and loaded at all times.

If we are to be holy we need to hide the word in our hearts, and that means a deliberate commitment to memorisation and meditation. It means a refusal to allow our brains to be trained by the world, a resistance to the laziness that the interweb can breed in our all-too-susceptible minds; it means a commitment to holiness that is willing to re-train and develop the faculties of our hearts contrary to the trend and tendency of the age in which we live, and to make sure that we pack into the armoury that array of weaponry necessary for the constant fight against ungodliness, temptations within and without. We must love that truth, know that truth in its sense and substance, in its particular words and phrases, understand it as a treasure and as a weapon, and learn how to use it in the combat with sin.

I am not saying that the interweb can only be a tool of the devil. I am saying that he knows how to use the tools available, to trick us into taking off our armour and to train us to put down our weapons. We cannot afford to be ignorant of his devices.

So, if we care about holiness, we will not allow our memories to atrophy and not permit our concentration to wither. We will focus our eyes on the text and fill our hearts with its store of good things, ready to be brought forth as occasion demands. Temptations will rush upon us. As so often, they might come with a "Has God really said . . .?" or a "Hasn't God said . . .?" We, like our Saviour before us, must be ready to bring forth the fruit of those labours of love, and draw out of the armoury of the heart a telling "Thus says the Lord, . . ." and so keep from sinning.