Parents, Teenagers, and Devices: Rooted Recommends a Webinar With Jonathan Haidt and Andy Crouch

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Todays parents and youth ministers know intuitively that the technological age in which we find ourselves is complicated for teenagers. We marvel at their agility in learning everything from TikTok to software code, even as we fear how this always-on-everywhere” (as Christian thinker Andy Crouch aptly describes it) is affecting their brains and ours.

The Trinity Forum’s recent webinar with Crouch and NYU professor Jonathan Haidt is one of those essential resources for youth ministers and parents seeking to navigate our confusing times. In this thoughtful conversation, Haidt, a Jewish social psychologist, unpacks his recent buzzy article for the Atlantic and the metaphor he used in the article from the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Meanwhile, Crouch zooms out to survey the cultural landscape and to offer wisdom from the biblical narrative. Their charitable approach to one anothers worldviews alone makes this webinar worth a listen. Here are a handful of valuable takeaways relevant to parenting teenagers.

Understand the pitfalls. Theres a reason the leading creators of our devices infamously withhold them from their children until their teenage years or later: the very convenient technologies we enjoy do not necessarily promote human flourishing. Haidt and Crouch agree that often we are tempted to hand our kids devices because it alleviates discomfort (whining, boredom, peer pressure) for us as parents—whereas human beings actually need struggle and even suffering in order to grow. Here and elsewhere, Crouch distinguishes between a device (something we use to check out and disengage) and a tool (something we use to actively do our work, creative or technical), and offers the example of the technology his wife uses as a physicist, versus say, scrolling Instagram. Haidt powerfully explains how this dependence has led to our increasingly fractured society, and how all of this is affecting Gen Z in particular.

Find Your People. Haidt and Crouch agree that limiting exposure to devices is easier in community. They recommend aligning with others in your neighborhood and church congregation to curtail social media use. Crouchs book The Tech-Wise Family has become one of my most-recommended resource for parents, and it makes a fantastic guide for families wanting to work together in this regard. In it, Crouch offers ten principles for families to implement at nearly any stage—and hes humbly transparent about which ones his family keeps and which they are continually working toward.

Keep the Sabbath. One of the best principles from Tech-Wise Family, which Crouch articulates on the webinar, is the spiritual principle of sabbath. In order to keep our devices from running our lives, we need what Gods people have always needed: a break from the rule of the worlds empires. He advocates for going device-free one hour each day, one day each week, and one week each year as a practical means of grace allowing individuals and families to rest in the Lordship of Jesus. Crouchs own family facilitates this tech-free time over the dinner hour, when most evenings they light candles and enjoy one anothers company. He has shared how this simple practice has had a compounding effect, lessening his desire to reach for his phone first thing in the morning.

Remember the Ultimate Story. Pointing to Haidt’s metaphor from his article in The Atlantic (for which Trinity Forum’s webinar itself was named), Crouch explains how the Tower of Babel narrative in Scripture is part of a wider arc of what God is doing in the world. The Christian story says that although sin has damaged God’s good world and all of the relationships in it, God sent Jesus to break into the world’s mess in order to redeem sinful human beings. It also tells us that one day, Jesus will return to make all things new.

As Crouch said, “Theres a larger story going on in human history that is really, really good for people and thats really good news… I am not at all pessimistic in the long run. I just have some slight concerns right now.”

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