A few years ago, I sat in a classroom at my sons’ school, listening to a panel of teens talk about smartphones and social media. I was horrified as the students described the bullying they had seen or experienced on social media platforms, the sexual images that some teens shared with others, the ease with which their friends circumvented parental controls, and the way students set up “fake” accounts for their family, with “real” accounts for their friends.
All that from a 15-minute workshop. Of course none of the teens on the panel admitted to participating in any of these activities – but they knew other students who had.
At the same time that I felt appalled by the dangers of smartphones, I had this odd concern that my teens, who didn’t have smartphones at the time, were somehow social outcasts, disconnected from their peers. According to the young panelists, “everybody” had a smartphone, “all our friends” used Instagram and text messaging, and “nobody” used Facebook or email any more.
I only wish, when we were navigating those years with our kids and I was dealing with parental anxieties, that David Eaton and Jeremiah Callihan’s new book had been available. Smartphone Sanity: A proven plan to protect your kids, build trust, and bring smartphone balance to your home is a valuable new resource for parents. The book explores the dangers of smartphones and offers parents advice for connecting with their children, even as they set limits on their own and their kids’ smartphone usage.
Eaton is president and cofounder of Axis, a group whose mission is to help parents and other caring adults build life-long faith in children. Callihan is CEO and co-founder of the ministry, which equips adults to understand teen culture and have faith-building conversations with young people. The organization also sends teams of millennials to speak with students about difficult faith and life issues, such as evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, the problem of evil and how to handle doubts.
The ministry offers a number of resources for parents and churches. Their parent guides address a wide variety of topics such as social media, video games, Christian living, music, mental health and theology. To help parents and other adults connect with young people, Axis’ “culture translator” explains current events, issues and terms.
Smartphone Sanity begins by giving parents a biblical framework for thinking about issues and explains that the guide is built around this structure: the good of Creation, the dangers of the Fall, boundaries provided by the Law, and Renewal through relationship with Jesus. The authors use this four-step model to guide parents toward goals of protecting children, building connection and trust, and bringing smartphone balance into the home.
From their experience of talking with thousands of students and parents, the authors begin the guide by focusing on parents, encouraging them to evaluate themselves, first. The book doesn’t just dive into how to set up parental controls, but Eaton and Callihan encourage parents to be open to growth and to work on connecting with their children. Instead of controlling children, the goal becomes helping children grow into adults who use technology responsibly.
Smartphone Sanity is written in short, bite-sized chapters. Most of these, in addition to teaching, end with an “experience” – a short activity that reinforces the material. The authors give parents a lot of grace, saying: “We highly recommend these or we wouldn’t have included them. However, life is busy. Do what you can, we ask nothing else.”
Each of the four sections of the book ends with a suggested family activity that’s “meant to draw you closer to your kids and open avenues of conversation.” Again, Eaton and Callihan don’t pressure the reader, but give grace and freedom. They offer three versions for each family-building exercise: The first option is for very busy parents and families; the second requires more time and planning; and the third option is for “overachievers.” Each alternative provides the same opportunity for discussion and connection.
The authors hope that parents will build an ongoing, life-long conversation with their children, connecting deeply and guiding their children toward living wisely.
Part 2 looks at the last three sections of Smartphone Sanity, which explore the dangers of smartphones and guide parents toward healthy boundaries and a family action plan.