Did you catch the quote by the CEO of Apple last week? Tim Cook was just outside of London, promoting Apple’s “Everyone Can Code” program at Harlow College in Essex when he made the comment about technology to The Guardian. Cook is quoted as saying, “I don’t have a kid, but I have a nephew that I put some boundaries on. There are some things that I won’t allow; I don’t want them on a social network.”
The Guardian article did not give an age for Cook’s nephew, but a 2015 Fortune interview with Cook said his nephew was 10 at the time. Let’s assume he is 12. My oldest daughter is 10 and is in a slim percentage of kids in her 4th grade class who don’t have a smartphone. The other day she was looking along with me at my Instagram account and mentioned that several of her classmates are on that social media platform already. (Instagram has an easy to bypass minimum user age of 13.) What’s the big deal about kids and social media? Tim Cook has a few more thoughts…
In a June 2017 graduation address at MIT, Cook said the following – “The internet has enabled so much and empowered so many, but it can also be a place where basic rules of decency are suspended and pettiness and negativity thrive. Don’t let that noise knock you off course.”
Tim Cook has spoken about the overuse of technology and the impact of social media many other times in recent years. He’s not the only person causing a bit of a stir in recent days. Tony Fadell, a former Apple executive, said that we can blame tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter for our tech addiction. His statement on Twitter implied that the companies have research and data on the topic.
Two well-known investors in Apple – Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement Sytem – wrote an open letter to the Board of Directors of Apple on January 6, 2018. A statement from the letter reads – “More than 10 years after the iPhone’s release, it is a cliché to point out the ubiquity of Apple’s devices among children and teenagers, as well as the attendant growth in social media use by this group. What is less well known is that there is a growing body of evidence that, for at least some of the most frequent young users, this may be having unintentional negative consequences.” The letter proceeds to site research from Professor Jean Twenge and others. (Twenge’s September 2017 piece from The Atlantic is a must read on this topic – Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?)
What’s the solution? Should we all delete our social media accounts and smash our iPhones with hammers? Probably not. Should we exercise discernment and wisdom for ourselves and our children as we navigate the new frontier of technology and media? Probably so.
As a minister, my mind turns to scripture when I have tough things to consider. Ephesians 5:15-16 seems fitting – “15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” I believe the abundance of people in this world are good, honest, and trying their best. However, it is hard to miss the shocking evil that exists in our world today. There is also the pervasive layer of cynicism, negativity, and general meanness that seems to reach into every aspect of life, thanks in part to our connected society.
My wife and I are weighing out our decision on when and why our kids will have devices of their own. We are considering a plan similar to one devised by Steve Minor, a minister friend. Steve has compiled a list of books that his kids must read before they are allowed to drive. The books cover a range of topics from history to morality to finance. The list was built to help his kids prepare for the responsibility of driving. Mobile devices require similar responsibility so a reading and family discussion program might be helpful in this circumstance as well.
Eventually our children will be connected and as parents we will help them deal with the ups and downs provided by technology. I have spoken in churches and with other groups on this topic for over a decade and am amazed at the speed of change. Here are a few thoughts to help your family consider technology…
Start a conversation. Ask kids how they plan to use a device, and who they plan to interact with on social media or in online games.
Establish boundaries early. Before even allowing them to have a device, make sure they know your ground rules and consequences for breaking the rules.
Shared accounts and/or passwords. Parents should have access to social media accounts to help in the process of making wise online decisions.
Tech-free time. Times during the day (perhaps dinner) should be setup as tech-free. Additionally consider setting up a charging station in the kitchen where devices can charge overnight allowing uninterrupted sleep for kids.