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What Does It Mean to Be a “Tech-Wise” Family?

Andy Crouch’s latest book, The Tech-Wise Family, is filled with practical insights and advice about how technology is used in families.

A 2018 Pew Research Center survey has found that parents think teens spend too much time on their phones, and teens agree. The Atlantic reports:

Fifty-four percent of the roughly 750 13-to-17-year-olds surveyed said they spend too much time absorbed in their phones, and 65 percent of parents said the same of their kids’ device usage.

But it’s not just teens who are struggling to manage their time well. The article notes that while “seventy-two percent of parents in the survey said that their teenagers were ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ distracted by their phones during conversations,” it’s also true that “roughly half of teens felt the same way about their parents.”

Many of us feel frustrated with how much technology has changed our family life, providing endless distractions that interrupt and prevent familial bonding. But few of us know quite how to deal with this problem. Thankfully, Andy Crouch’s latest book, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, is filled with practical insights and advice.

Crouch isn’t afraid of technology, but he is concerned about potential pitfalls.

If we don’t learn to put technology, in all its forms, in its proper place, we will miss out on many of the best parts of life in a family.

Crouch frames his book as an exciting quest to put tech “in its proper place,” thereby making space for the “hard and beautiful work of becoming wise and courageous people together.” Crouch asks us to remember that “our homes aren’t meant to be just refueling stations, places where we and our devices rest briefly, top up our charge, and then go back to frantic activity.” Instead, our homes are meant to be “places where the very best of life happens.”

Principles for a Healthy Relationship with Technology

Here are the basic principles that Crouch sees as providing a foundation for a healthy relationship to the technology in our lives:

• Technology is in its proper place when it helps us bond with the real people we have been given to love. It’s out of its proper place when we end up bonding with people at a distance, like celebrities, whom we will never meet.

• Technology is in its proper place when it starts great conversations. It’s out of its place when it prevents us from talking with and listening to one another.

• Technology is in its proper place when it helps us take care of the fragile bodies we inhabit. It’s out of its proper place when it promises to help us escape the limits and vulnerabilities of those bodies altogether.

• Technology is in its proper place when it helps us acquire skill and mastery of domains that are the glory of human culture (sports, music, the arts, cooking, writing, accounting; the list could go on and on.) When we let technology replace the development of skill with passive consumption, something has gone wrong.

• Technology is in its proper place when it helps us cultivate awe for the created world we are part of and responsible for stewarding. It’s out of its proper place when it keeps us from engaging the wild and wonderful natural world with all our senses.

• Technology is in its proper place only when we use it with intention and care. “…it doesn’t stay in its proper place on its own; much like my children’s toys and stuffed creatures and minor treasures, it finds its way underfoot all over the house and all over our lives. If we aren’t intentional and careful, we’ll end up with a quite extraordinary mess.”

One of the key ideas repeated through the book is that the easiest ways to capture our attention are often not the best ways to develop our abilities.

Skip the plastic, skip the batteries, skip the things that work on their own. Or, if they find their way into your home anyway, put them at the edges. In the center, put the things that both adults and children will find endlessly engaging, demanding, and delightful.

As a practical example, Crouch says that rather than the television set being the primary way to cure boredom, why not have a dedicated card-table for art and craft-making? Of course, for kids accustomed to the digital world as an escape for boredom, alternatives that require creativity and effort might not be appealing at first. But if the cords are unplugged and the tech put aside by mom and dad (push) and other alternatives for play and imagination are made available (pull), they’ll soon find that they can fill their time in more productive ways.

10 Ideas for Technology in the Family

Here are ten practical ideas that are explored in more detail in the book:

‣ We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
‣ We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
‣ We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play, and rest together.
‣ We wake up before our devices do, and they ‘go to bed’ before we do.
‣ We aim for ‘no screens before double digits’ at school and at home.
‣ We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
‣ Car time is conversation time.
‣ Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
‣ We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
‣ We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.

Ultimately, one of the most important insights from the book is that navigating the use of technology as a family requires flexibility and the willingness to learn together. Crouch writes that “the proper place for technology won’t be exactly the same for every family, and it is not the same at every season of our lives.” Above all, Crouch says what is needed is discernment, the ability to grow in wisdom and courage as a family and to let that be the guiding light through the complexities of the digital world.

Further Reading

Alysse ElHage’s in-depth interview with Andy Crouch further explores key ideas in his book.

One interesting section of Crouch’s book explores the concept of “nudges” in the social sciences.

The makers of technological devices have become absolute masters at the nudge. Every notification that comes in on your smartphone is a nudge – not a command or demand, but something that makes it easier to stop whatever you’re currently doing and divert your attention to your screen.

Indeed, even “the mere presence of your smartphone in your pocket is a nudge, a gentle reminder that just a tap away are countless rewards of information, entertainment, and distraction.” Thus, for Crouch, “one key part of the art of living faithfully with technology is setting up better nudges for ourselves.” For very practical steps toward how to mitigate the smartphone nudges (for example: turn your phone to grayscale so as to avoid the red dot which irritates our brain and compels us to click the notification) read this blog post.

You can also read my digital citizenship guide for parents here.

Andy Crouch’s latest book, The Tech-Wise Family, is filled with practical insights and advice about how technology is used in families.

About Ethan Demme

Ethan Demme is the Chairman and CEO of Demme Learning and is passionate about building lifelong learners. Ethan is an elected member of the board of supervisors in East Lampeter Township, PA. He has never backed down from a challenge, especially if it's outdoors, and is currently into climbing big mountains and other endurance sports. An active member of his local community, Ethan is a well-socialized homeschool graduate who holds a B.A. in Communication Arts from Bryan College.

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