Online Safety and Wisdom: Introduction
The Smartphone Generation
I was born in 1995, which puts me in the very last batch of millennials. As such, I was raised in an era of technological advancement and growing internet and social media usage. I had my first flip phone at age 14 and my first smartphone by 19. Growing up, I’d hear my parents' warnings and offhand remarks about “kids these days” and their “technology addiction.” At the time, I’d brush off such remarks and chuckle at their outdated thinking—that is, until I became a Young Life volunteer after college and began discipling Gen Z-ers on a regular basis. “Kids these days,” I now often catch myself thinking. Ministry has always been a challenge, but just getting these kids to look up from their smartphones for more than a few minutes at a time can feel like it takes a miracle.
Tech at Every Turn
Technology is all around us and is increasingly a cornerstone of our daily lives. For many of us (myself admittedly included), a day often looks like waking up, checking our phone, listening to a podcast while we get ready, listening to an audiobook on our way to work, sitting in front of a computer for eight hours, listening to the evening news on our commute home, eating some dinner in front of the TV, crawling into bed and scrolling through Instagram and Twitter until we can no longer keep our eyes open. If this doesn’t quite sound like your life, it likely sounds at least somewhat like your child’s. For today’s youth, this is considered normal. They’ve never known a world without the internet. The first phones they ever had were likely smartphones, which would be more aptly called little pocket computers. They wield the combined knowledge of the world and also YouTube cat compilation videos in the palms of their hands at any given moment. It’s no wonder they can’t look away.
Just Keep Scrolling...
The truth is, many popular social media apps are designed to keep users logged in and scrolling for as long as possible. For example, when Instagram first came out, a user would scroll to the bottom of his or her feed and hit “load 10 more” to continue viewing posts. Now, there is no “bottom” of a feed, no “load 10 more,” no checkpoint that cues the reader to make an active decision to either log off or keep scrolling. Instead, the scrolling is infinite. TikTok, too, employs an infinite-scroll model, designed to keep users locked in and scrolling, with the promise of novelty, stimulation, and entertainment just too much to pass up. And according to the data, it’s working. Like, really working.
Common Sense Media estimates that teens are spending an average of nine hours a day online. Nine hours. That’s more than a full work day. Not only that, but children between 8 and 12 are following suit at six hours a day, and even the youngest age group from birth to 8 years old is exposed to nearly an hour of internet time every day. There’s no denying it: today’s teens and children live their lives online.
Cause for Concern?
As educators and Christians, we know that too much of a good thing is almost never a good thing at all, and that the devil is constantly seeking new avenues for deception. It’s no secret that websites, social media apps, video games, and even texting, while seemingly harmless, have all become breeding grounds for potential physical, psychological, and spiritual manipulation and danger. Simply said, the Internet is the Christian’s new battleground. In this series, we’ll be exploring the potential online pitfalls for students, and what parents can do to help limit, mitigate, and attack these problems before and as they arise. Stay tuned for the upcoming posts in this series as we look at research, interview experts, and partner with parents to guide students in wisdom and safety online, and by God’s grace, help them successfully navigate an increasingly virtual world through a Christian worldview.
About the Author
Jo Wilbur is a Communications Specialist at TCS and proud JMU grad who loves writing, shopping, and making new friends. She and her husband live in Purcellville and spend time together cooking plant-based meals, singing worship songs, and volunteering as Young Life leaders in their community.