Churches in Catch-22 on fam­ily vs. tech­nol­ogy topic

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - RELIGION - TERRY MAT­TINGLY Terry Mat­tingly leads GetReli­gion. org and is a se­nior fel­low for Me­dia and Re­li­gion at The King’s Col­lege in New York City. He lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn. His web­site is tmatt.net.

The ev­i­dence keeps grow­ing that fam­i­lies need help con­trol­ling tech­nol­ogy in their homes, but this is a sub­ject most megachurch min­is­ters would have trou­ble ad­dress­ing with a straight face.

“Talk­ing about this sub­ject in many of our churches would be … con­tro­ver­sial for rea­sons that are rather ironic,” said au­thor Andy Crouch, se­nior com­mu­ni­ca­tion strate­gist for the John Tem­ple­ton Foun­da­tion in Philadel­phia. “Pas­tors would be preach­ing in churches dom­i­nated by gi­ant video screens and lots of them now ask their peo­ple to tweet ser­mon feed­back right there in the ser­vice. The tech­nol­ogy is ev­ery­where.”

It’s hard to talk about con­trol­ling to­day’s dig­i­tal-screens cul­ture with­out be­ing ac­cused of ad­vo­cat­ing a semi-Amish re­treat. But at some point, he said, par­ents who care about faith, moral­ity and char­ac­ter will have to de­velop some strate­gies. For starters, their chil­dren will need to hear, over and over: “Our fam­ily is dif­fer­ent.”

Clergy could help par­ents face this task. But that would re­quire them to ad­dress hot-but­ton is­sues rang­ing from on­line porn to whether par­ents should give chil­dren smart­phones. It would also re­quire say­ing, “Our church is dif­fer­ent.”

Crouch doesn’t have easy an­swers for any of these is­sues. His new book, The Tech-Wise Fam­ily, in­cludes “Crouch Fam­ily Re­al­ity Check” pages de­tail­ing the strug­gles be­hind the prin­ci­ples he rec­om­mends. While his fam­ily uses can­dles at its screen-free din­ners, Crouch ad­mits that his home’s num­ber of Ap­ple de­vices is in the dou­ble dig­its.

Ob­vi­ously, it’s hard to ob­serve any kind of “dig­i­tal Sab­bath” in which all these screens go dark for a week, a day or even an hour, Crouch said. Nev­er­the­less, try­ing to con­trol this dig­i­tal life­style is a sub­ject reli­gious lead­ers should dis­cuss with their flocks.

“If we don’t have some rhythm with these things — in terms of when we use them and when we don’t — then they’re us­ing us, in­stead of us us­ing them,” he said. But it’s cru­cial to re­mem­ber that, “we’re not say­ing all this tech­nol­ogy is bad. It’s good, when used as part of a Chris­tian fam­ily cul­ture. That’s what takes plan­ning and com­mit­ment.”

Crouch sug­gested sev­eral tech­nol­ogy is­sues that reli­gious lead­ers can start ad­dress­ing.

Par­ents need to study their homes, room by room, and think about where dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy is used. It’s good, for ex­am­ple, to have one — re­peat, one — tele­vi­sion in a set­ting where fam­ily mem­bers and vis­i­tors can use it, to­gether. The goal is to avoid in­di­vid­u­als in dif­fer­ent rooms, bing­ing on pri­vate screens with no sense of ac­count­abil­ity. Also, the fam­ily’s main com­puter should be in a pub­lic place with the screen fac­ing into the room.

Hus­bands and wives, he said, should know each other’s pass­words and help hold each other ac­count­able. Par­ents should in­stall soft­ware se­cu­rity pro­grams on the home Wi-Fi sys­tem — a prac­ti­cal is­sue that could be ad­dressed in church fo­rums — and mon­i­tor how chil­dren use smart­phones and tablets.

At the very least, par­ents can strive for fam­ily mem­bers to eat din­ner to­gether with zero dig­i­tal de­vices on the table. It’s also im­por­tant, he said, to es­tab­lish “Our screens go to sleep be­fore we do,” and par­ents could in­sist that bed­rooms — in­clud­ing their own — be as “screen-free as pos­si­ble.” Many teens re­port they strug­gle to sleep be­cause their so­cial me­dia pro­grams never leave them alone.

For many, the ele­phant in the fam­ily room is ex­po­sure to on­line pornog­ra­phy, start­ing with pre­teens. It’s all but im­pos­si­ble to elim­i­nate this threat to­day, Crouch stressed. The key is de­vel­op­ing com­mon habits and in­ter­ests — singing, read­ing, cook­ing, arts and crafts — that of­fer al­ter­na­tives to on­line ad­dic­tions.

“This is why the most im­por­tant things we will do to pre­vent porn from tak­ing over our own lives and our chil­dren’s lives have noth­ing to do with sex,” Crouch ar­gues in his book. “The truth is that if we build our fam­ily’s tech­ni­cal life around try­ing to keep porn out, we will fail.”

The bot­tom line: “Many of us are not as cap­tive to round-the-clock, never-end­ing de­mands as we be­lieve we are. In­stead, we are our own jail­ers. … The door to a bet­ter life is only locked from the in­side. We pre­fer our brightly lit cage of toil and leisure (this cage, af­ter all, comes with un­lim­ited Net­flix).”

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