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How to Keep Your Kids from being Phone-Obsessed BEFORE They Get a Phone

  • April Motl Contributor
  • Updated Sep 21, 2018
How to Keep Your Kids from being Phone-Obsessed BEFORE They Get a Phone

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12 NASB)

If there is any topic in our current culture that this verse from Corinthians speaks to, surely, screen time is it! Every family has their own individual sense of what is right in this arena, and yet, how one kid interacts with their screen affects your kid, too! 

Screens are tricky. Your brain interacts with them differently than books, differently than face-to-face conversations, and differently than most stimuli. There are some studies indicating when we engage in social media (via a screen, of course) that our brain patterns have strong similarities to the patterns involved in drug use or sex. A deep reinforcement response is engaged when using a search engine (I found what I was looking for!), social media (I got attention!), etc. - and this is for adults. These kinds of powerful responses in children hold significant sway to how they grow both physically in the wiring of their brain and emotionally. 

Our brains continue developing until we are in our mid-20s. Scientists are just starting to understand the picture of how interaction with screens, social media, and a digitally-driven world impacts child brain development. And from a purely scientific standpoint, there are some definite red flags. So what does that mean for your child and your parenting

Here are four ideas to implement to help your child interact with screen-based technology without being mastered by it before they ever get their own phone.

1. Set the example. 

“… In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds.” (Titus 2:7)

When I was pregnant with my son, I saw a number of articles about moms who were missing important parenting moments because they were absorbed in their phones and social media. I knew I sometimes didn’t manage my attention well with those, so I took a break. It sort of reset my sense of attachment to those important moments. I also enjoyed a little more mental clarity because I wasn’t throwing my mind in the onslaught of social media all the time, filling every nook and cranny of brain space with internet soup. 

In our home, we regularly take breaks from technology for that very purpose, to recenter our attention and reconsider the uses and boundaries we set on technology. Teach your kids early, by example, to not have their noses glued to a screen by not having yours glued to one. Show them that it’s healthy to reassess your interaction with screens and that “fasting” from technology has a place in your family culture. Teach them to set boundaries on their own technology use by showing them that you have boundaries, too (don’t take calls/texts when you are giving them attention, during playtime, while reading together, etc).

2. Teach the value of self-control from an early age.

“Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27)

Scripturally, self-control and victory are braided together. When it comes to technology use, self-control is the life ingredient that will help your child masterfully use technology, instead of being controlled by it. 

So teach your child to practice self, control, encourage them to feel good about it when they exercise self-control, help them become aware of the times when they aren’t using self-control, and speak well of their efforts to exercise self-control when you notice they are trying. Then when they get a phone or computer, they have a fighting chance to be in control of their own technology use.

3. Teach the value of soul-guarding from an early age.

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Since our son was small, we have repeated this to him over and over: your mind and heart are some of the most valuable things the Lord has given you. Keep only good things in them. So, if another kid is playing a game on their device or if he is watching a show, we tell him not to put scary, mean, or sad things in his mind by watching them. 

I learned this litmus test for material we put in our minds from another mom and found it to be profound and simple: don’t watch shows based on how “bad” they are. Watch, read, and listen to things based on how good, pure, noble, and true they are! If that concept becomes your family norm, it will help your child navigate technology choices because they have learned to filter out material that doesn’t fit that scriptural criteria.

4. Pray and seek wisdom from the Bible

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)

One of the most godly families I have ever known waited until their daughter approached a significant rite of passage to give her a smartphone. They discussed issues to watch out for, good habits to implement, they had modeled good habits themselves, etc. When day day came that their daughter got her long-awaited phone, she immediately dipped into the oblivion of social media. 

Her mom was surprised. She even caught some of the things her daughter had shared on social media about her. It was hurtful. And it served as a lesson for me. You can do everything “right” to prepare your child, and in the end, they still make their own choices. 

Also, your kids might end up making good choices, but need some time to practice before they master them. In this family’s case, the daughter resurfaced from the social media oblivion after some healthy, honest conversations, and a lot of prayer. She learned to be tactful and careful in her online sharing - which is hard for adults, so we need to grant a lot of grace for our kids as they learn. And she has grown up into an amazing young woman, capable of real conversation, and no longer lost in the jungle of technology. 

When you reach that stage with your kids, pray a lot, have someone who loves you and your children pray for you, and use Scripture to guide your journey, and you too can navigate the challenge of living with a young adult kid who has a phone.

Author’s note: One of my favorite books on this subject was co-authored by Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane, Growing Up Social. If you haven’t read it, get a copy! 

April Motl is a pastor’s wife, mom, and women’s ministry director. Visit for more encouraging resources.

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