Clare Luther made the counter-cultural decision not to have a smart phone when her children were young. Here she explains the benefits it had for her family.
It wasn’t just my girls, now 17 and 15, who were denied a smart phone when they were in primary school, it was me too. Instead I had a Nokia for texts and calls, but that was it - no internet, emails or Candy Crush.
Some will read this and struggle to relate. That’s OK. I’m sure there are many who can’t imagine how they’d navigate their daily lives without a smart phone to hand. Our phone is our go to. Whether it be home life, school life, work, playgrounds, college, holiday, commuting the phone is intrinsically part of our daily experience. It’s a convenient companion offering a wealth of information and immediate interaction at the touch of a fingertip.
But smart phones subtly camouflage seemingly harmless openings to varied worlds, push our self-control boundaries and tempt us when we least expect it. They play a big part in affecting the attitude of our heart, our mental health and our emotional well-being, especially with the all-consuming “compared to you” syndrome that can seep into our minds, whether child or adult.
When the children were very young, I’d find myself asking to use my husband’s smart phone to casually scroll through people’s lives at a distance, check out photos, see perceived successes, outfits, holidays, different body shapes etc. It seemed to feel OK while I was doing it, but I always would come away feeling inadequate, ripe with envy, robbed of time and unhappy that I’d ignored the children.
I got mocked and ridiculed, I was on the receiving end of jokes or frustrated comments about being “behind the times” but reflecting back the benefits it gave us far outweighed any negatives.
Jesus speaks very clearly about the worldly battles we face and how temptation taints our hearts and minds. Satan knows our weak spots and is keen to further weaken them so that our godly paths are disrupted and distracted. That’s why I made an intentional decision not to introduce a smart phone into my life. Coming to faith meant that I had to properly look at myself in a way that I’d not seen before. Jesus’s teachings and attitude shook me up, they exposed my weak spots and challenged me on my role as a parent.
It was a difficult choice, it was counter-cultural and no other parent I knew was doing it, but this choice ended up offering me and my girls more joy and freedom than I could have imagined in our home life. It’s not meant to sound smug or vitriolic because it was really really tough at times. I got mocked and ridiculed, I was on the receiving end of jokes or frustrated comments about being “behind the times”, and sometimes I missed out on things altogether. But reflecting back, and asking my girls too, the benefits it gave us far outweighed any negatives:
The joy of having Jesus as my compass
The Bible is filled with verses that warn us, guide us and help us to recognise our sinful nature, the desires of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. God longs for us to be filled with his goodness, joy, clear thinking and self-control and I knew that my parenting would be far richer without the distraction of a smart phone.
Home was home
Once the front door was closed there were no external influences, chat or distractions available for me to access. It allowed my world to be very in the moment. All that I needed to think or worry about was right there, which helped conversations within our family unit. It kept life simple and allowed my children to be children.
Leading by example
I was able to model to them that you can exist without being dependent on a phone to communicate with friends and family and that they had my full attention. I had my head up and looking out, not down and looking in battling with the trappings of a phone addiction (which sneaks up on us) with my children vying for my attention. I didn’t want to be that parent who put restrictions and rules in place, when I wasn’t able to model through my own behaviour.
There were no arguments about screen time and minimal conversations about missing out with friends. In fact, they recall feeling relieved that they didn’t have the stress of dealing with What’s App chats or the pressure of staying up late responding to others on various apps.
When I was with my children, I was fully with my children.
In summary: when I was with my children, I was fully with my children. This is my personal experience and appreciate we will all have different opinions, but I have no doubt that for that particular season of my life Jesus gave me a much-needed exit route from the worldly desires that would have tripped me up. He was absolutely with me as I navigated those years. I was not alone.
When my children were introduced to their own smart phones at 11 years old, they were incredible with how they managed them and how they to continue to do so now. They are careful and wise about the app’s they engage with, the language they use, the pictures they share, they are able to leave them alone at meal times and during family times. They can also recognise when the phone is not helpful for the mental health, and even turn them off when they want some time out. There is no doubt in my mind that the choice I made during their key developmental childhood years has had a hugely positive impact on their well-being, their sense of identity, and their emotional awareness. Thank you, Jesus.