Hello, Hipsters and Happy Friday to you all!
Usually, I have elements of fun with the family in these posts, however, I feel an overwhelming compulsion to take us down a serious path today.
There will be plenty here regarding the family, but this post will be more funereal than fun.
My children are addicted to screens. Any parents relate? But aren’t we all? In some sense, at least?
From TV’s, to tablets, to computers, to theaters, and now to smartphones, my kids live and long for that next ‘digital hit.’
My wife and I are shocked as we frequently witness how emotionally unstable they become around these devices. And how sly — they pickpocket friends and family just to sneak a little screen time!
At first, this was all funny and cute. Now, it’s one of the most contentious areas of our household. And if the trends and the tabloids are true, our children’s relationship to screens could ultimately become life or death.
Take a look at the links below to see what is ‘dialing up’ trouble for our families today.
Teen suicide, mental health, and smartphone usage have all been in upward trends for years now. And with more data, it appears that these worldwide patterns are linked rather than isolated phenomenons.
We are witnessing on a more regular basis what multiple risk factors converging at the same time really looks like: the implosion of innocent individuals.
So what are the risk factors? Here are some:
- Family instability
- Violence/abuse/bullying/assault which all can lead to a host of problems such as PTSD
- Substance abuse
- Financial strains and their associated stresses that pass from parents to children
And then there’s the most ‘benign’ of them all, the smartphone. This amoral, inanimate, lifeless object that you have next to you right now.
“With the world at their fingertips, kids are feeling the weight of that world on their shoulders.”
Mental health and social skills are bleeding out in our society. We have known this to be a direct affect from technology for years. And the lens that our children perceive reality about themselves and the world is coming primarily through these addictive pocket computers.
As a culture, we have gained so much and yet have lost so much in this exchange. See 5 Reasons Why Marriages Don’t Work.
We are potentially exploiting the most vulnerable of society, and it is leading to unprecedented results, so much so that researchers are now suggesting that America is on the brink of its worst mental health crisis in years.
We are literally losing our minds. We have more ‘likes,’ but we are forfeiting our lives, humanity and future in the process. See Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation?
HOPE is needed more than ever before.
Before I get into the suggestions provided in the links above, I feel the need to take us a step further. I mean no disrespect, I just found the solutions somewhat surface-based. When we only treat symptoms, we’re already behind.
Let me begin by quoting a poem by Steve Turner.
We believe in Marx, Freud and Darwin.
We believe everything is okay as long as you don’t hurt anyone to the best of your definition of hurt, and to the best of your knowledge.
We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin. We believe that adultery is fun. We believe that sodomy’s okay. We believe that taboos are taboo.
We believe that everything’s getting better despite evidence to the contrary. The evidence must be investigated and you can prove anything with evidence.
We believe there’s something in horoscopes, UFO’s and bent spoons.
Jesus was a good man just like Buddha, Mohammed, and ourselves. He was a good moral teacher though we think his good morals were bad.
We believe that all religions are basically the same-at least the ones that we read were. They all believe in love and goodness. They only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.
We believe that after death comes the Nothing because when you ask the dead what happens they say nothing. If death is not the end, if the dead have lied, then its compulsory heaven for all excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Kahn.
We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What’s selected is average. What’s average is normal. What’s normal is good.
We believe in total disarmament. We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed. Americans should beat their guns into tractors and the Russians would be sure to follow.
We believe that man is essentially good. It’s only his behavior that lets him down. This is the fault of society. Society is the fault of conditions. Conditions are the fault of society.
We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him. Reality will adapt accordingly. The universe will readjust. History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth. We believe in the rejection of creeds, and the flowering of individual thought.
If chance be the Father of all flesh, disaster is his rainbow in the sky and when you hear:
State of emergency! Sniper kills ten! Troops on rampage! Whites go looting! Bomb blasts school!
It is but the sound of man worshipping his maker.
With that, let’s proceed to what the experts suggest we do.
1) We must educate ourselves on the host of factors in the human condition.
This is an investigation into anthropology and let’s be honest, we rarely ever find something other than what we already expected to find.
And this is where I need to be frank (not a person). The ideologies of materialism and naturalism must go. They’re killing us.
If we only see our children as nothing more than mere conglomerations of atoms, we will not find any answers for this epidemic. In fact, we won’t even arrive at the necessary questions because if all we see, touch, and smell is all that our children really are, then we have already removed the ground necessary for investigating the unseen realities of their being, such as the souls and consciences.
Whatever manifests outwardly, I believe, first begins inwardly, and if all we expect to find are chemical imbalances and synapses misfiring, we will have no HOPE here. We might as well stop pondering because Richard Dawkins already provided us the answer: “DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”
Can you imagine the officiant saying this at your child’s funeral after they commit suicide because of bullying: “Through suicide, he/she was merely dancing to his/her DNA.” This, of course, would apply to the bully as well.
If you find this to be repugnant, then join me in abandoning the impotent, cold philosophies of materialism and let’s get after a real solution.
2) Know and observe you children.
This is part of the motive for writing these Family Fun Friday posts. I’ve come to recognize that just sleeping in a room next to my children or sharing some meals with them is not enough.
I think for the younger children, or those with disabilities, you especially have to know them as well, if not better, than they know themselves.
Remember, for many of us, we’re talking about teenagers here! They’re already a little ‘interesting.’ The depth of personal knowledge we must possess is of a level I cannot describe.
This takes great time and attention! It does not happen passively. And Lord knows we have enough distractions that get in the way of this crucial factor for family wellness.
It is when we know our children that we can hopefully recognize significant changes in their behavior. Are they more clingy, not enjoying what they once did, more emotional, giving things away, or even reckless? Do they talk about wanting to die or feeling trapped, enduring unbearable pain or burdened by the pain of others? Are they socially isolated?
This may be a clue if they initiating a ‘good-bye’ ritual. But many parents are totally clueless!
Investigate your children. Know them intimately, inside and out. Look beyond the surface and explore the inner workings of their immaterial but very real persona. Their lives may depend on it.
And since we’re on the topics of smartphones, and really social media, can I urge all the parents reading to stop letting your kids travel the avenues of these platforms alone while you remain disconnected? There’s nothing to be proud of here. Being disconnected from social media and smartphones most likely means you’re disconnected from your kids.
If you’re kids are on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, or a host of other platforms, you need to be as well. You need to be active there too, don’t just sign up. ‘Friend’ them, follow them, and do anything else that is needed.
As a parent, I am fed up with other parents who really do not know their own children. And then when something crazy happens, these disengaged parents just naively scratch their heads, publicize to the world that they raised their kids differently, and then with quizzical faces throw their confused hands up in the air as if to surrender.
Social media has led to a schizophrenic, bi-polarity this world has never seen and if we really want to know what our kids are thinking and feeling, we need to get on their social media accounts! You may not get the answers by simply asking.
3) Proactively take on the responsibility of assisting your children’s growth in their coping and developmental skills.
You may not be the only one in this process, but we as parents must stop believing that these skills just happen naturally. This passivity is partially how we’re in this mess.
But this hits us parents right where it hurts, right? Because this requires time. Time we already feel we don’t have. It’s not a task we can delegate to someone else.
I can guarantee that if one of my children ever commits suicide, God forbid, I will have no problem seeing the things I could have done differently in hindsight. Let’s not find the time after it’s too late.
Back to the kids.
First off, children are already at a disadvantage cognitively and biologically because their development is just beginning. And then we give them a smartphone, which gives them access to innumerable individuals who are in the same underdeveloped status.
And on their way to checking out how many friends verbally harassed them online or excluded them last Friday night, a fear-mongering political pundit from CNN notifies them that nuclear war is on the way.
If that doesn’t concern you, just remember that they can experience this on an average of 2,617 times a day!!! Maybe even double that if they’re in the top 10% of extreme smartphone users who don’t know where they phones end and their hands begin.
We are seeing that there is a new way to be human. It’s isolated, impersonal, and overwhelming, but it tickles our consumeristic drives as it makes addicts out of us.
What good can come of this?
4) Be direct and intentional.
Lead them and lead this conversation because you’re most likely not feeding them the idea. Remove that fear and burden from yourself.
If a child is in the mental and emotional state of becoming at risk for committing suicide, they’re already considering it. They’re weighing the pros and cons. They may even want to get to the next level of Blue Whale (more on this to come!).
This is the not the time to ‘mind your own business’ or let them be in their own world to develop their own autonomy.
Offer support. But this requires availability. And more, it requires initiative.
Hearing that your daughter has dark thoughts because of what some stupid 12 year old said about her braces can seem silly to us, but it’s the world to her! This is not the time to judge, condemn, or simply correct.
We need to become a safe place for our children, and create other safe places if for some reason we cannot assist. This may involve seeking out other safe people, those who can handle the information properly, just to get the conversation going.
Whenever the topic of social media enters my mind, I always come back to Paul’s exhortation to the Philippian church nearly 2,000 years ago. It’s SO timely for today.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)
Imagine the breakthroughs in psychology and health if we actually believed this.
But what do our children fixate on when they scroll through their feeds on smartphones? If we’re honest, basically the exact opposite listed above. So perhaps I could rephrase Paul’s instruction to illustrate our kids’ actual perception of reality.
Whatever is false, whatever dishonorable, whatever is unjust, whatever is impure, whatever is ugly, whatever is shameful, if there is anything lousy, if there is anything worthy of disrespect, think about these things.
Oh, and do it between 2,500 – 5,000 times a day!
I have recently stopped asking God why there is so much pain and suffering in our world today. Instead, I ask God how is there anything good that comes out of this place?
We’re losing our kids, our minds, our lives, and our future. We’re losing! That’s not of God at all.
Parents, our kids are crying out for us. Unfortunately, those cries get more quiet and internalized as they get older, but they need us!
Parents, we are seeing what the American Dream is doing to our families. If left unattended, it will only get worse. Something has to change.
May I humbly suggest that it starts with us.
Children are not meals we stick in the microwave and just walk away from. We signed up for this. They’re underdeveloped and overexposed.
Our children are in some serious need of face time. And no, not the app.
Our priorities, our goals, our time, our energy, our language, and even our worldview must change. No more kids sacrificed on our self-made altars, on our watches.
Let it be so.