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Christian Living

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Bridging the Digital Divide: What Parents Need to Know about Technology

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

If your child’s obsession with social media is driving you crazy, you are not alone.

In a world that is becoming increasingly me-centric, a new generation of parents is witnessing an ever-changing digital landscape, one that is rife with pitfalls.  Simply put, our children are at risk.

With six kids of his own, Kirk Cameron is well aware of the challenges that digital technology presents to families.  Hoping to shine light on this area of concern, he produced a special two-night Fathom movie event called Connect that made its debut in late February.   Kirk’s goal is to enlighten and encourage parents to not only understand the harsh realities of living in this digital age, but also offer suggestions on how to thrive in it. Due to popular demand, it returns for a two night encore performance on March 20th and March 24th.

Find a theater near you to view Kirk Cameron’s Connect live cinema event.

I recently spoke to Kirk about the importance of seeing Connect and any tips he might have for parents on how to best equip them to provide guidance to their children in this dizzying digital age.

In America and other countries for that matter, the smart phone has become a rite of cultural passage for kids (my household included).  But is that rite of passage wrong?  Have we lost sight of our identities in the process?

That’s a great question. I think the answer in one sense is simple. I would say technology is not wrong. I think technology is a good thing. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s just that when you mix kids and technology, it’s like mixing kids with a sports car or mixing kids with something else that’s powerful and needs wisdom to know how to use it. So I think that giving kids a phone is something that parents should do when their kids need one, not when they want one or not when they feel peer pressure to get one. For instance with my kids, Chris, my daughter babysits. So if she’s at someone’s house and they do not have a landline, but she’s watching some little kids, the parents need to get hold of her, or she needs to call 911, or if she needs some help, she needs a phone. My son plays basketball, and the coach requires everybody to have a certain app on their phone so that they can get updates about practices, because they often change at the last minute. So we’ve elected to give our kids phones, but it doesn’t mean that they need to have Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube on their phone. And I can also control with parental controls and other devices the kinds of people that they’re actually communicating with. So I don’t think it’s an all-or-nothing thing. And I don’t think that it’s a one-size-fits-all thing. That’s why wise, aware parents are necessary.

In Connect you use the term “Pioneer Parents”.  An interesting phrase considering we are speeding full throttle into the 21st Century.  Why do you use this term for today’s parent?

I use the term because I think so many parents feel incredibly guilty for not being able to prevent some of these damaging effects on their children, but the truth is we’re figuring it out as we go. Nobody’s ever done this before. When we first sent people up into space to go land on the moon, it was trial and error. You’re learning as you go, and mistakes are going to get made when you try to learn from those mistakes, and it is what it is for us as parents, and our kids are guinea pigs in this super technology social media age we’re in. But I don’t think that means we need to get depressed or give up hope. I think it means we need to not quit; we need to keep at it; and we need to really lean in. It gives us an entry point with our kids to show them that we love them, and that we care about them, and that we want to walk together with them on this journey through relationships, school, sports and everything else that may be new to use. But again it gives us another chance to interact with our kids. “Well, teach me how to use Facebook, or show me how to use Instagram, and how do I post this, or what does that mean?” You know, it gives us a lot to talk with our kids about, because they’re interested in all things media and digital, and just because we’re not familiar with it doesn’t mean that we can’t use it as a chance to connect with our kids.

Do you have any tips for mom and dad on how to best equip them to parent in this technological age?

One, watch the movie. If you can see that you can arm yourself with a lot of great information. For example, the neuroscientist who can talk with you about what’s going on inside of the brain. So, the fact that the kids are feeling entitled and addicted and impatient, it’s not their fault. Parents would be the same way if we were them, because Google trains us to be that way. Everything’s instant, everything’s now, nothing ever breaks. You can get new things quicker than you can repair them. Chemically and physiologically, our brains are being rewired to spend more and more time on the Internet every day. So what we do at our house is we have devices that do put limits and filters on the kind of things that come into my house, just like I put a lock on my front door. I don’t let anyone just open a window and come inside my house at night, why would I just give my kids an open Internet connection that would allow anything to come in there. Especially as Christians, we understand that we all have desires within our own hearts that will harm us and cause damage, and so to just open up a feeding ground for that kind of sin is not wise. But I think the main thing is just understand that your kids are craving relationships. Understand that your kids crave connection and they want to network with friends, and they want relationships more than anything, and nothing in the cyber world can even begin to compare or compete with the real world relationships, with parents and friends, and people who love them. So, have lots of parties at your house, take time to sit down and have dinner with your family. Sing songs, go to church, play games, take a walk, explore nature, read a book together, watch a TV show and discuss it. Be in relationship with your kids, because they instinctively know the shallowness of the pseudo-relationships that they have on Instagram. They already feel it. They already know it’s not the same thing, but if we’re so busy and distracted on our own devices, then our kids will just think that there are no other options. 

In this Fathom Movie Event, you have an interesting panel of guest contributors that includes neurosurgeon Dr. Ian Armstrong, parenting experts Kathy Koch and Tim Woda, and pastors Ken Graves and Mark Gregston.  What do these folks offer to the parenting and technology discussion?

They all bring a lot of experience, wisdom, and expertise in their respective fields, and I specifically chose them because of the categories that they represent. As a parent, these are the areas that mean the most to me. For instance, I want to know why do kids behave the way that they do today? It’s so obvious that kids seem to be so impatient, discontent, entitled and nothing’s ever good enough for them. Dr. Kathy (Koch) brings a wealth of experience. She has published a book called Screens and Teens.  She does so much great work shedding light on that subject. She mentions that it’s not all our kids’ fault.  This is because Google and Facebook have intentionally rewired kids’ brains to need that kind of stimulation. This is literally physiologically changing the structure of neuro-pathways.  This led me to talk with Dr. (Ian) Armstrong. And yet I know it’s not all physical and neurological. There is also a spiritual battle that rages in the heart and mind of all of our children, and so I wanted to get to the bottom of that. Is this the devil overpowering the Spirit of God within my kids? Well, no, it’s not. “Greater is He who is in me than He who is in the world,” and nothing in social media and technology is enough to overpower the influence of a fully engaged parent who is under the influence of the Word of God, training their children diligently. That’s a much more powerful force, which gives me hope.

What is the one thing that you want viewers to take away from the experience of seeing Connect?  What would you like to see parents apply to their daily experiences with their kids?

I want them to go home, and I want them to talk about it with their kids. I want them to say, you know what, the changes that need to be made in our home are doable. There is hope and I can lead the way, I can be the hero parent here. Even though I don’t have all of the answers, and I may not even understand Instagram as well as my kids do, I can model for them the kind of healthy living that I want them to live. And so at the very end of the Fathom event, I come back on after the movie; and I give some tips and techniques and suggestions, and even give people some helpful resources including a device called “Circle.” Circle is a beautiful little device that been designed in partnership with Disney to allow parents to manage content and time in their home for each individual device that their kids have.   This means you can set time limits for things like YouTube, Facebook, and Snapchat. You can monitor the way your kids are spending time online. If you have kids that stay up too late on their devices alone in their room, you can actually put a bedtime to each individual device. You can pause the Internet entirely at your house.

Watch a trailer for Connect:

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