Apr 162019 2 Responses

Some Days Your Kids Don’t Need a Phone

“Just five days at camp with no phones or internet was enough to induce major increases in the campers’ well-being and sense of connection.” This quote is from Digital Minimalism. As soon as I read it, I took a picture of the page and sent it to two co-workers who run separate camps for our church–one a children’s camp and the other a camp for those in junior high and high school. What a great idea for a church camp–confiscate all phones and let teenagers experience a week without technology.

As probably often happens, my co-workers worried I might be overlooking something. This policy would likely hinder attendance at summer camps. Some would balk and simply not go. Yet the balking wouldn’t be from students; it would be from their parents. Many parents would not agree to a scenario in which they were unable to contact their child at any moment. Even if the child wanted to attend church camp, the parent would not let them without their cell phone.

No one doubts society is struggling to understand addiction to screens, specifically smartphones. While many have written both fair and unfair pieces about what happens when children compete for their parents’ attention with screens, what has been greatly overlooked are the consequences of how a parent’s addiction to having constant contact with their children may impact the security, strength, and capability of the child. (See: Love Your Wife More Than Your Phone)

When I was a kid my mom would drop me off at the local golf course after breakfast. I would play 18, have lunch, and play some more. When I was ready to come home I would call our house and hope she was there. In order to call, I had to use the pay phone. To use the pay phone, I would have to find a quarter. Sometimes I would have it. Other times I would have to find someone who would give me a quarter. If she wasn’t home, I would have to trust that she either would come to get me at some point or I would have to find another quarter and call home again.

While it would have been nice to simply shoot my mom a text or give her a call, there was something instructional about not having direct contact with her, having to wait to connect, and at times having to problem solve ways to get home.

By no means do I believe the time in which I was raised was better or more holy than today’s society. Every time and generation has its challenges. However, there are some negative consequences we are creating for our children not because they are addicted to the “always on/always in contact” culture, but because we are.

Make no mistake, feeling as though we must have a continual ability to contact our children at all times is a symptom of anxiety. It’s not good parenting; it’s a symbol of dysfunction. It’s understandable. With school shootings, terrorism, and a hundred other threats, parents are right to be anxious regarding the safety of their kids. However, believing that being in continual contact with them keeps them safer simply isn’t true. The reality is that it would be a very rare and highly unlikely scenario in which being able to contact our kids (or them contact us) at a specific moment would make them safer. It simply wouldn’t.

Our anxieties and addictions are not helping our children. Instead, it’s creating unintended consequences for them. While it is comforting (and often useful) to have the ability to contact our children at any moment, the negative consequences outweigh the occasional convenience.

By tethering our children to a phone, we are:

Failing to train them to trust other adults. Without a phone, my parents had to teach me which adults I could trust and which ones I could not trust. Having adults help me was necessary for ride homes, seeking information, and getting help. Since my parents couldn’t always be present, they had to put other men and women in my life. (See: 5 Rude Behaviors Created By Technology)

Failing to train them to take care of themselves. Without a phone, I was forced at an early age to make decisions for myself. I couldn’t call my parents at every moment and have them tell me what to do. If I had a problem, I had to figure it out. Being in constant contact with a phone keeps our kids from having to solve problems.

Failing to train them to connect with others. Technology can be useful, but by and large, technology hinders conversation–real, face-to-face conversation. In Digital Minimalism, the author Cal Newport makes the point that conversation is the bedrock of human connection and relationship. When we are incapable of going through life without a phone in our hand, we are hindering our connections with others.

My kids aren’t of the age yet where they have phones. At 13 and 10, they use old phones of ours for occasional wi-fi access, but I can’t call them and they can’t call me. They can text me, but aren’t allowed to text non-family members. But the day is coming. I know it’s not avoidable. However, what I can’t do is to allow peer pressure from others or my personal anxiety be the reason they get a phone. And when they do get a phone, Jenny and I must continually seek opportunities where they are free from technology and not tethered to us.

Studies are clear–a week without technology would greatly benefit everyone, especially our children. Yet the truth is that many parents would not do what was in the best interest of their children–send them to a camp where phones aren’t allowed–because the parents can’t go a week without having constant contact with their children. That’s a bad choice for us and them.

Would you encourage your church to limit cell phones at their church camp?

2 Responses to Some Days Your Kids Don’t Need a Phone
  1. Holly Bearden Reply

    I think a good alternative may be to let them bring their phones and have a designated “phone time” each day for them to call or text their parents. It’s not 100% technology free but it would give the children a break from screens and the parents could still talk with their children daily. Also, providing the parents with contact information and an alternative way To contact the camp and their child in case of emergency could be helpful for some parents. Last, I think education is key here. Educating the parents on the benefits of limiting their children’s screen time during that week and hearing out any concerns the parents may have. Then working to find ways to help the parents feel at ease about those concerns (even if that means making a few more adjustments) while also giving the children a week of screen free connection!

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