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Switching Off Your Child

Switching Off Your Child

I’m not sure which part of the article disturbed me the most.

First, after ensuring that his six-year-old daughter was on the family iPad, his eight and eleven-year-old sons were on the PlayStation, and his two-year-old was watching something on his iPhone…

…the writer said, “For me, this was a good morning’s parenting.  There had been no arguments and I had been able to read the papers in peace.”

That was bad enough.

But then came the justification.  Namely, that any other way of parenting “just isn’t realistic.”  Why?  The “world has moved on.”  Since it’s not always safe to let children venture outside where they might run or play or use their imagination, children simply have to “spend more time in front of a screen.”

Granted, the author continues, they could go outside, or engage in reading, but such an endeavor “invariably involves parental supervision, and that is a limited resource.”  So technology comes to the rescue, offering parents a way to occupy their children in ways that do not involve direct parental supervision.

I hardly know where to begin.

Actually, I do.

Let’s begin with the supposedly innocuous nature of media, because it’s not.

According to a 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average child between the ages of 8-18 “now spends practically every waking minute – except for the time in school – using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device.”  They spend more than seven and a half hours a day with such devices.  And that doesn’t count the 1.5 hours spent texting, or the half-hour they talk on their cell phones.

And because they multi-task - for example, surfing the net while listening to their iPod - they manage to cram in nearly 11 hours of media content into that seven and a half hours.

Here’s the real headline:  the study also found that heavy media use is associated with behavior problems, poor grades and obesity.  According to the study, the “heaviest media users were also more likely to report that they were bored or sad, or that they got into trouble, did not get along well with their parents and were not happy at school.”

So what did one pediatrician, when asked about the study, say?

The same thing our wonderfully-justifying parent said:  it was time to stop arguing over whether it was good or bad and accept it as part of children’s environment.

Excuse me?

Don’t worry about good or bad – just accept it?

Give in to culture?

Go with the world?

Take the “Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” philosophy into parenting?

Rumor has it that parents can make rules.  That they can make a difference.  In fact, that’s their job. 

But that’s not the way we think.

Too many parents throw up their hands with a “What can you do?” attitude when it comes to their child’s world. 

“You’re wearing that?  Well, I guess everyone is.”

“You want to watch what?  Well, if everyone is.”

“You want to do what?  Well, if the others are.”

They’re passive.

A passive parent is someone who sees what needs to be addressed, sees what needs to be attended, and doesn’t attend to it.  “Giving in” and “going along” becomes central to their thinking. 

But what they are actually doing is abdicating their role. 

The assumption with parenting is simple:  your children are immature and need your maturity.  Further, exercising that maturity as a parent is a responsibility.  It’s not about doing whatever it takes to occupy them so you can read “the papers in peace.” 

It’s also not a popularity contest.

So what if other children have a cell phone at the age of eight or some other ridiculous age?  Who cares if they pitch a fit at not having one?  Your goal is not to be liked; your goal is to parent.   

So let’s state the obvious.  Seven and a half hours a day with media is wrong.  No parent should allow it.  They should be forced – and yes, I said forced - to read, to use their imagination, to get outside and play with a dog or participate in a sport. 

I know, that means becoming an active parent. 

Even an involved one.

But unless I’m mistaken, that’s what parenting is about.

James Emery White



“We can't switch off a child's online world,” Harry Wallop, The Telegraph, January 19, 2014, read online.

“If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online,” Tamar Lewin, The New York Times, January 20, 2010, p. A1 and A3, read online.

“Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction,” Matt Richtel, The New York Times, November 21, 2010, p. A1 and A20, read online

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit, where you view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.