His article should be read by parents, pastors, teachers, and anyone who cares about the minds and souls of young people.
As prophets of technological pessimism from Jacques Ellul to Neil Postman have reminded us, every technology comes with an effect on the soul. How does this digital revolution effect the souls of young people who quite literally sleep with cellphones on the pillow, lest they miss a text message in the night? What space is left for the development of flesh-and-blood friendships? How are they related to people who do not have access to text messages? Is their communicative ability now limited to 140 characters in a burst?
Among young Christians, what space is left for the development of a devotional life? Do their lives contain any space for extended quiet and reflection, for prayer, or for reading anything longer than a text message?
Then again, maybe the real problem is much worse than Zaslow and Gallagher acknowledge. Is this phenomenon limited to the “hypersocialized” young? In the spirit of personal confession I must admit that I turn on my iPhone the moment the plane hits the tarmac on landing. I feel irresponsible if I do not post regular Twitter updates and check email and messages constantly. Colleagues, friends, and constituents expect “hypersocializing,” and they now range across the age spectrum.
There is no going back — at least not in terms of retreat. The social universe is a fact of life, and a missiological challenge for the Christian church. We are all Facebookers now.
The hypersocialized generation of teenagers and young adults needs to learn limits. Parents must provide those limits for their children and encourage them in older offspring. Educators and executives cannot ignore the challenge, but there is as yet no mechanism for determining proper balance in a world growing more hypersocialized by the day.
It strikes me that parents have several options:
1. Model personal intentionality and self-control. Mohler talks about his own practice. No doubt his children see his life. What is my practice as a parent? Where do I practice personal self-restraint? What are my restraints on my phone, my email, my facebooking, my internet reading? This is an issuenot just for my children, but for me also. Recently, I have been thinking about how much my children see me on the computer. My example will be more powerful than my words.
2. Inform our children of the effect of the Internet. They need to realize that media socialization can in fact be addictive with negative consequences. Zaslow reports
Almost a quarter of today’s teens check Facebook more than 10 times a day, according to a 2009 survey by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group that monitors media’s impact on families.
A study this year by psychology students at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Ga., found that the more time young people spend on Facebook, the more likely they are to have lower grades and weaker study habits. Heavy Facebook users show signs of being more gregarious, but they are also more likely to be anxious, hostile or depressed.
3. Practice and demand personal Sabbaths from technology. The Sabbath was a day to rest and focus on God. Fasting is a deliberate break from something that is good, food, for something that is better, namely God. Should Sunday be a day off from Internet? TV? The Puritans called Sunday the market day for the soul. It is hard to fill up on good things if we are taking our time with extraneous. The good is the enemy of the best. Let’s all take some time off to get our souls back right.
4. Open the funnel slowly in terms of what we give them. Our society gives technology to our kids much too quickly without thinking about the consequences. Once we give them technology, there is no going back. So give it out slowly, deliberately, thoughtfully.
5. Open the funnel. We need to disciple our children to handle this part of life. We cannot just pretend it doesn’t exist. Our family is a big believer is having our children manage this technology while they are with us. We gave our children email at 12. Facebook at 16. Cellphone at 17. Your family choices may differ but the idea is to introduce it while they are at home. They need to be actively discipled while they are in our home.
6. Burrow down to the core reason of hypersocialization: love of popularity. Unfortunately, we define ourselves by our relationships. We all want to be accepted and loved. We all want the praise of men. But ultimately we must find our security, not in our popularity, but in the gospel and in the Lord. I am ok, not because all my friends say I am ok, but because the Lord accepts me in the gospel. Hypersocialization is really just an antidote to finding my security is my popularity.
7. The principles of mastery apply to internet. 1 Corinthians 6:12: “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” One question that every Christian has to ask is, “Does this have the potential to master me?” We can in fact become addicted to the attention of others over the Internet. Our young people, as responsible before God, need to ask if a certain technology has mastered them. Don’t know? Then go cold-turkey for a while. See how you do.
Those are my thoughts. What are yours?
Are our young people hypersocialized? Is this a bad thing?
What should a parent do? I would love to hear your thoughts.