Scenario 1A: Your 7-year-old asks, “Dad, why do trees have bark?” You take out your smartphone, open the Google app, and hand it over. Your 7-year-old enters, “Why do trees have bark?” About 112,000,000 results come up in 0.64 seconds, and your child navigates to the first entry. Text, photos, and ads flash before her eyes as her finger begins to flick.
Scenario 1B: Your 7-year-old asks, “Dad, why do trees have bark?” You each grab a jacket, go outside, and begin to explore the trees in your yard. Together you discover that pine trees have very different bark from oak trees, which have quite different bark from sycamores. You find strange bugs under the bark and weird sap oozing out. You and your child alike get your hands sticky and dirty. You amble through the strip of woods next to your home, searching, exploring, questioning, laughing together. When it gets dark, you come inside and (after washing your hands) flip open a DK Eyewitness book about plants together.
Consider: Which of these scenarios is most like the rest of your child’s day? Which is best suited for a divine image bearer created to inhabit and discover our world? Which best habituates your child to love learning?
Scenario 2A: Your 14-year-old comes home from school, goes upstairs to his room, and opens his smartphone, navigating to the Instagram app, and begins scrolling through his feed. Ariana Grande is touring again. A Youtuber’s latest video is good for a chuckle. An IG video reveals that its creator is transitioning. A new video game is being released next month. A quick move to a different app and the tumble deeper into pop culture accelerates. Your 14-year-old comes down for dinner, and you ask, “Whatcha been doing?” He responds, “Homework.”
Scenario 2B: After dinner, your 14-year-old settles down in the family room with his science binder and a bag of coloring pencils while you pull out The Fellowship of the Ring, your family read-aloud for January. You pause to ask, “Why was Sam so eager to go with Frodo on such a perilous journey?” Your 14-year-old ponders your question, and after a few seconds, says, “I guess he was like Odysseus, Moses, and Dante. He had courage and loved his friends.” You smile.
Consider again: Which of these scenarios is geared toward an appetite for knowledge that is praiseworthy? Which assumes a world made up of gifts and inhabited by heroes who display virtue? Which forms a student and which forms a voyeur?
Ok, full disclosure. I heartily recommend 1B and 2B, and I couldn’t discourage you more from taking the 1A and 2A approach.
But why? Perhaps the reasons seem obvious already. However, I want to recommend that you read an article that makes the reasons obvious: “Curiosity and Smartphones” by Douglas V. Henry asks the question, Does using a smartphone run contrary to the soul’s deep need for the love of God and others? He explores the answer by thinking through what pursuing a virtual life teaches us to desire and how we cherish the things they provide.
I simply cannot recommend it heartily enough, for at least 3 reasons:
First, in November our first ProvidenceU addressed the Tech-Wise Family, and this article is a rich and powerful follow-up. (And by the way, if you haven’t done so, I strongly urge you to read The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch!)
Second, though Henry wrote this article more than 10 years ago, when the smartphone was first becoming a phenomenon, his thoughts are more relevant than ever.
Finally, Providence teachers read and discussed this article at our in-service day last Monday, so it would be a great time to engage one of them with this subject. They have deep reflections and carefully formed thoughts on the questions Henry raises in the article.
Please take the time to read the Douglas Henry article and talk it through with your spouse!
And then look for ways to implement its principles in your own life and in your family. Together, let’s live counterculturally as Christian families who exalt the Lordship of Christ and savor the good life in Him, who live out the classical Christian vision and train up our children to believe courageously, think deeply, and serve compassionately.