Navigating Teens & Cell Phones

By Sara Elsner

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Oh What a Tangled Web: Parenting to Avoid Entanglement

Simpler Times?

Our oldest son and daughter were 14 and 13 when they got their first cell phones twelve years ago. They were delighted when we surprised them with flip phones as an unexpected reward for completing a youth group camp scholarship challenge to memorize the New Testament book of James.

Since much of the book of James is about taming the tongue and other godly character development, and since in that day the purchase of a flip phone did not warrant a payment plan or data plan, this blessing seemed appropriate to bestow on our teenagers for such dedication.

After all, they were “the only ones who did not have a cell phone!”

We naively informed them of their minutes and message limits--cue the laughter!

Charlie and I quickly realized that we’d better opt for the unlimited texting plan. What we hadn’t realized was that even if our own kids stayed within our prescribed limits, we couldn’t control the number or the cost of those texts received.

We also had not considered the content of the texts. We soon learned that we’d better learn to consider the content, because the content also had a cost--a different kind of cost.

Keep in mind here that this was before cameras and photo storage were a standard feature on phones. And it was certainly before phones were “smart”.

The Power of the Written Word….to Connect and Build

Texting can be a very powerful and positive tool. There are some who would disagree, saying that texting has decreased the number of meaningful conversations. 

The invention of the conventional telephone may also have caused a 19th century concern that there would be a decrease of communication by the written word. After all, the written word had  been the mode of communication for most of history, not to mention the fact that the Word of God is communicated now, and was originally communicated then, in the form of the written word. Early church teaching was communicated through the correspondence of the Epistles.

If God Himself chose the written word of His Word as His mode of correspondence with His people, then our own written words, with the power to be chosen carefully, also can be very powerfully positive and meaningful. 

And text messaging only transmits that written word more quickly to its recipient.  

So communication by text is validated by the text of God’s Word and history. It’s just that the text medium has changed as we have gone from papyrus to digital screen and from scroll to mobile device.

But just like every verbal conversation is not necessarily meaningful or positive, neither is every text message.

The Power of the Written Word … to Tear Down and Destroy

The written word has the power to inform, encourage, and build. It also has the power to deceive, bully and tear down. Its power is like that of the tongue described in James 3:6 as “...a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”

Since written words have the ability to be more carefully chosen, they should also be less careless and less damaging. However, our written words are sometimes bolder and less cautious.

And those words, and today those pictures that are worth a thousand words, travel more quickly than ever to their recipients in all formats of social media.

This has major implications for our kids as receivers, as they can never unsee or unread what may come to them with the intent to exclude, bully, deceive, trap or seduce.

This also has major implications for our kids as senders, as there is a record beyond their (and our) control of whatever they send or post. Futures are affected.

Helping our Kids Avoid Getting Snagged in the Tangled Web

Technology has definitely evolved over the course of our eight children becoming teens. Smartphone entitlement is real, even among elementary aged kids. Our own kids observed the precedent we set and have walked through similar entitlement as each approached their 13th birthdays memorizing the book of James, which we have made conditional with that entitlement, believing in the power of the Word of God to equip our kids with discernment.

But God’s Word and experience has taught us that there is an enemy out to steal, kill, and destroy--“the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2a NASB). Media is not evil, but the air in which it travels is still under the influence of that enemy--that “spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:2b NASB) This influence can be transmitted through the careless, insensitive, insecure and immature communications of friends, as well as through the intentional motives of bullies, porn and predators.

We have found the following steps to be helpful (but not foolproof) in this battle:

  • Mobile device usage with internet access is not allowed in bedrooms or bathrooms
  • Devices must be charged in a “public” home station overnight with a curfew on their use
  • Apps require our password entry to be removed, and we check for apps
  • We have a web installed across all ios devices (we use Covenant Eyes, which monitors usage, blocks sites and provides an attempt report)
  • Social media apps are no longer allowed. Social media formats must be accessed via the web filter.
  • We have the right to monitor all message communication, regardless of whether they have purchased their own mobile device, pay for their own data, etc.
  • There is no privacy in our household when it comes to media.

As I write this, I am preparing for attacks on my own family, because the enemy seeks to invalidate the message of those who seek to strengthen the body, fearing his loss of turf. I am also keenly aware that I have become negligent in my own processing of the above steps. It takes T-I-M-E!

So I will end here and do some catching up on protecting my own kids’ hearts!


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A wife of thirty-ish years and homeschooling mom of eight, “plus-three”, Sara enjoys cooking for her remaining household of seven that grows to at least thirteen when their married kids are also seated at their family’s twenty foot table. As a math major, Sara battles symmetry-addiction, and she can’t avoid using both sides of her brain as she gardens and decorates. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook!