At present, when I wake up one morning and my iPhone has a magically darkened screen, leaving me almost unable to read a thing, I leave it that way for a couple days because I have no idea what the heck has happened or how to fix it. I feel something akin to a rush of victory when I successfully download an album from iTunes, feeling as though I’ve just done something youthful and even, dare I say, techie. A couple months ago my husband downloaded a newer version of Microsoft Word and I still, weeks later, feel paralyzed when I use it because all the little icons at the top have switched spots and even changed graphics and I’m fearful to click. (I know, I know. Playing around is the only way to figure it out and abandon my fear. Truthfully, navigating my way through a raging blizzard sounds a bit more fun to me than navigating my way through a new computer program.) As I sit here and type, an anti-virus warning has popped up (twice, actually) and I’ve clicked on “remind me later” because I’m hesitant to either accept it or fully dismiss it; either option could ruin the computer, I reckon, so it seems wise to just indefinitely click “remind me later,” right? Recently, when I tried to visit one of the blogs I frequently read and a message informed me that “this site is temporarily down for maintenance,” I believed that there were thousands of adorable, microscopically small elves dressed in custodian apparel, feverishly at work inside the hard drive, sweeping and dusting all the tiny wires.
OK, so that last example was obviously untrue, and an attempt to make light of my own technophobe stupidity. But every other example is commonplace, surrounded by dozens more, and, I know from talking with others like me, not a unique response.
The element of all this that brings unease is not that I will need to navigate my way through an increasingly technological world for possibly the next fifty years, but that I need to raise my three young children to navigate their way through this world as well. I don’t feel equipped to do this. I’m not too worried about the techie side of things—in all likelihood my kids will be walking ME through the tech side of stuff before long. But I feel ill-equipped to walk them through a childhood and adolescence that is increasingly different from my own.
Technological gadgets already have such a strong, almost hypnotic allure for all three of my children. A couple nights ago I was at IKEA with my little ones and as we traveled in the elevator, 3-year-old Joshua saw an iPhone resting in the hand of a complete stranger. Almost as though in a trance, he looked up at this big, burly man and said “Can I please play with your phone?” The man chuckled and politely responded, “Sorry, buddy. I’m actually getting off in a second.”
This past weekend we had some dear friends come to dinner and at one point, as we sat around our kitchen table, 4-year-old Jake started regaling our guests with tales of the various unsuitable X-Factor clips that he’s watched on YouTube. Quite animatedly, he described how this one hopeful star pulled down his pants in front of the judges to prove to them that he had the names of six girls tattooed on his rear. “It was so funny!” Jake concluded with a laugh and a contented sigh. My friends were trying to stifle their laughter while I was trying to mask my horror. You see, we don’t have cable, rarely watch television, and the kids are only allowed to play with any type of ‘screen’ on the weekend. It’s not like there are no boundaries in place whatsoever. Curious as to when he had seen this and how he happened to have such a detailed account of the scenario, I asked, “Have you watched this more than once, Jake?” His response: “Yup. Tons of times, Mom. On your iPhone.” It was a moment where I was thankful for gracious, non-judgmental friends.
My instinct in all this is to wish I could stick my head in the sand, not let my kids have cell phones until after they’re married, and forbid Facebook accounts until they have children of their own. But that’s not the right instinct. Definitely clear boundaries along with a thoughtful, biblical approach to their use of technology is good; simply saying “NO!” is probably not so good. But in either case, as a parent of young children, the pulse of my heart quickens because I see clearly the ways that I’ve already failed, and I wonder if I will be equipped in the months and years to come. Will I be equipped to properly establish both time and content boundaries for my children? Will I be equipped to teach them how to use technology for good? Will I be equipped to teach my children, when they’re older, how to use social media for the good of others and to the glory of God when I barely have a grip on how to do that myself? Will I be equipped to teach them why they must wait until they’re older to have some of the devices that I know their friends will have at a much younger age? Will I be equipped to cultivate hearts that seek to love and serve others in a world where how well they are ‘liked’ will literally, at times, become measured in numbers and notifications?
And then, maybe most of all, will they look to me and see a woman, a mother, who uses technology for good? Will I be equipped to consistently live out those philosophies that I attempt to teach? If my children, one day years from now, scroll through my Facebook page from 2008 until the present, will they see the words of a mature woman whose speech has been seasoned with grace, whose desire has been to love God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength, and then love the person beside me as I love myself? My heart settles, just a little, as I remember that we've been given a standard of loving and living that transcends time and technology; everything in life can be filtered through that grid, really.
The fear of technology is a light one, and is something that I know could theoretically be overcome with an open mind and a greater willingness to learn. The fear that rests weightier is that I’ll fail to teach my precious children how to use the technology that is already at their little fingertips, that is already the desire of their little hearts.