In the early 1980s, a friend posed a question to a spunky elderly lady in her 90s: “What single invention has more harmfully affected the American home than any other?” “The automobile,” she answered without hesitation. “The car has done more to remove children from their parents, to give access to prohibited places once out of reach, and to provide a means for conflicting voices to fill our young people’s ears (through the car radio).” Needless to say, that wasn’t the answer I was expecting. But for more than 30 years I’ve thought about it. And I’ve come to think she was quite perceptive.
The car is obviously not the problem, but it became a carrier for a problem. People with sinful hearts simply find creative ways – either purposefully or unwittingly – to use amazingly engineered and wonderfully beneficial inventions for evil ends. Cars altered seemingly everything they touched. Streets changed, laws changed, and people changed. Society noticed. Because of the growing number of fatalities associated with cars, states introduced training, testing, and licensing, restricting the less careful from the privilege of driving. In addition, these watchful stewards of the common good deemed it necessary to limit licenses to those over age 16 and to limit the speed at which people could travel (initially to 20 mph!). The faster people travel, the easier to use the car unwisely, inconsiderately, and harmfully.
We are still tempted to use our technology carelessly. And technology today, like the car in the early 1900s, often takes us to unintended destinations or nurtures unintended consequences, particularly if we hurry heedlessly and selfishly on our way, neglecting some of the timeless considerations that existed long before cars did.
As a father, I’m called to help my own children maneuver the multi-lane rush-hour traffic of technology use. Where can I begin?
One of the permanent memories of Driver’s Ed is the persistent way the instructor demands that we watch footage of accidents. Mutilated cars and bodies ad nauseum – literally! If similar realities were compiled to highlight dangers for something as ostensibly innocent as cell phone use, what would those dangers include? Physiological consequences like “texting thumb,” “text neck,” or iPosture? Emotional consequences like iDisorders, nomophobia, or smart phone addiction? Societal issues like texting while driving? Moral issues like sexting and easy access to “all sorts of evil”? And the list of sinful stumbles easily enhanced by the use of cell phones grows quickly – deceit, secrecy, gossip, irresponsibility, distraction, elevating sinful peer pressure, etc.
Thankfully, Driver’s Ed consisted of more than horror stories. The benefits of driving safely frequently reached our ears – better insurance rates, happy parents, the convenience of driving myself around, and avoiding accidents (living a little longer!) are pretty convincing motivations that well match the benefits of cell phones: convenience, safety, efficiency, and accessibility.
As a father, I should make sure my own young people are fully aware of both the beneficial and the dangerous ways that people use cell phones and the often unintended results.
Use a “Dual Brake System”
What about the driving test – the unnerving time when I’m on the road behind the wheel, accountable to implement responsibly what I’ve learned? Of course, the instructor is only inches away with his own set of brakes, ever-watchful experienced eyes, and guiding commentary.
Like him, I should implement a dual brake system in the vehicle I use to guide my children through the technology traffic. This enables me to trust them with opportunity, test their readiness, and yet not totally relinquish the wheel to them without an opportunity to guide. After all, they, like me, were born in sin with foolishness bound up in their hearts.
Is Your Child Ready?
If my child resents that assistance, he only demonstrates he still really needs it. If he abuses the responsibility entrusted to him, he is not ready for it. Responsibility must precede privilege. If he resents the safety guidelines implemented to preserve him from the dangers, then he is not mature enough yet to be trusted to use the technology for its beneficial purposes.
When is a child old enough to be entrusted with driving? Technically, as soon as it’s legal. Additionally, as soon as he is mature enough to use the car responsibly in a way that does not erode the Scriptural foundation and structure I’ve attempted to build into his life. When is a child old enough to have a cell phone, particularly one without a dual brake system? When he is mature enough to use it in God-honoring ways exclusively for its beneficial purposes.
Doing all to the glory of God is a comprehensive guide – it should regulate what I do with two tons of metal that carries me and should govern what I do with less than two pounds of the latest technology that I carry on my person.