Parents' Smartphones: Sticky Faith Builder or Breaker?

Kara Powell | Sep 9, 2014

Photo by Wei-Feng Xue.

In celebration of the release of The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, stickyfaith.org is hosting a “Blog Tour” to share some of the book’s research highlights and practical ideas. This research finding from our interviews with 50 amazing parents comes from chapter ten: “Home Sticky Home: Making Your House a Hub of Faith”.

One of the most dominant themes in our fifty parents’ descriptions of their homes is that they limit their kids’ use of technology.

These boundaries are needed because of the way young people today are marinated in media. Let’s consider together a generation whose lives are heavily flavored by technology:

• Fifty-eight percent of this generation possess a desktop computer.

• Sixty-one percent own a laptop.

• Eighteen percent use a tablet or e-reader.

But the real king of all technology is the device in their pocket. Almost 90 percent of this generation carry a cell phone.[[Pew Research Center, Pew Internet and American Life Project (June 28, 2012), http://pewinternet.org/Infographics/2012/A-Closer-Look-at-Gadget-Ownership.aspx.]]

When asked to describe their cell phone in one word, this generation answered, “Awesome,” “Great,” “Good,” “Love,” “Excellent,” “Useful,” and “Convenient.”[[Pew Research Center, Pew Internet and American Life Project (July 11, 2011), http://pewinternet.org/Infographics/2011/Smartphones.aspx.]]

You might be thinking that some of those words don’t sound very adolescent. Especially the words useful and convenient. That’s because the generation I’m describing isn’t teenagers. It’s adults.

Are young people avid users of technology? You bet. But the data suggests that while teenagers may be digital natives, we adults are fast-adapting digital immigrants. Before we judge teenagers for their quick-texting thumbs and seemingly permanent earbuds, we adults need to put down our smartphones and think about our own media consumption.

Eighty-three percent of young people are involved in social networking. So are 77 percent of their parents.[[Pew Research Center, Pew Internet and American Life Project (August 5, 2013), http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/March/Pew-Internet-Social-Networking-full-detail.aspx.]]

Among all US household types, the traditional nuclear family with two parents and children under eighteen is more likely than other household types—such as single adults or couples without children—to have cell phones and use the internet.[[Pew Research Center, Pew Internet and American Life Project (October 19, 2008), http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2008/Networked-Families.aspx.]]

Often parents use this technology to improve their relationships with their kids. After all, texting can help parents stay in touch with their children throughout the day. Social media allows parents to take the pulse of their kids’ lifestyle choices and friendships.[[Bradley Howell, “Using Social Media to Strengthen Family Bonds,” FYI E-Journal (July 8, 2013), /articles/using-social-media-to-strengthen-family-bonds.]]

But the parents we interviewed have recognized that the same technology that builds bridges can also build walls. Kids are so focused on sharing videos online with friends five miles away that they become numb to family members sitting five feet from them. Parents become immersed in their computers, barely noticing when their kids enter and leave the family room. Given how technology cuts across generations, many wise parents impose limits not only on their kids but also on themselves.

What sorts of limits do you set on your own technology so that it doesn’t sabotage family communication and connection?

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.


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