As we parent tech-savvy kids in a tech-dependent age, we must emphasize transparency.  

Our individual screens offer the illusion of privacy, anonymity— even secrecy. But these are misnomers of our tech age; our every move online is followed, our information is mined and often sold, and even content we deem private can be accessed by others. 

As tech users— and as parents of kids who are fully immersed in a digital world— we must model what it looks like to live above reproach in all areas of our lives. 

This doesn’t mean we will be (or have to be) perfect, but it does require an honest evaluation of our own tech habits. It means letting the good news of the Gospel flow into every facet of our lives. As we walk this out daily ourselves, we model for our children what trustworthy, transparent, wise tech use looks like.

Privacy is an illusion

First, we must acknowledge and teach our children that there is no such thing as actual privacy or anonymity with modern tech. Many of us— famous or not— have learned this the hard way.

This really shouldn’t surprise us. According to the Bible there’s no such thing as privacy or anonymity in life. Jesus reminds us:

“Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” —Luke 12:2

Privacy is a myth. Thinking that no one will ever know what we do online is a lie, and believing a lie is not setting ourselves up for success. We want to live in light of the truth, and the truth is that we’re never truly anonymous. Even if we could get away with whatever we wanted online, God sees our very hearts (1 Sam. 16:7). 

Privacy is a prison

Think for a minute about the nature of our tech: It’s marketed as a means to keep us connected and engaged, but the entire experience is self-centered. It’s my phone, my tablet, my account— and I’m encouraged to think of only myself when using them.

That’s not the way real, healthy relationships or communities work. Technology advertises connection but often we end up more isolated than ever.

It goes beyond loneliness, however. In James 5:16, we’re told to confess our sins to one another. We’re told that the process of repenting of those sins out loud, to another person, and praying for forgiveness, is powerful and effective for freedom. 

When we’re busy clinging to the illusion of privacy, we’re unable to confess, repent, and pray for forgiveness with others. 

In short, we’re unable to be free.

Technology advertises connection but often we end up more isolated than ever.

4 ways we buy into the privacy myth

Establishing tech norms must go beyond the simple question of  “How much screen time is too much?” We must dig deeper into evaluating our hearts. 

Are there certain norms of tech use we aren’t willing to evaluate critically? Why? 

Here are some of the most common ways we buy into the privacy myth, ranging from the most common to the more suspect. As you work with your family to establish a  tech policy, be sure to discuss the following:

  1. Private devices— Most of us have individual phones, laptops, iPads, Kindles, TVs. This might not seem problematic at first, but it’s a very different experience from not-so-long-ago when families shared one TV and a landline.
  2. Private location—  Because these devices are mobile (ie. not tethered to the wall in the kitchen), we can take our tech with us anywhere—  to the office, bedroom, bathroom.
  3. Incognito mode— or, as one YoungLife camper told me, “sincognito” mode. Ask your teens about this one.
  4. Burner accounts, VIP accounts, fake social media accounts— If you think you’re following your teen’s TikTok or Instagram account, maybe double check. Multiple accounts are flourishing.

Parents first always

Parents, we must first understand— personally— that private tech use is an illusion that leads to death. We will be held accountable for every post, text, tweet, and search. If we believe the Bible, and live submitted to God, then we must take His Word seriously. 

When discussing the lie of anonymity with our children, we begin from a place of humility, honesty and candor. We want our words and actions to position us as signposts pointing to God and making Him great. 

This means modeling transparent tech use, being trustworthy, and abiding by the agreed-upon family tech policy. It also means confessing and repenting when we fail, and praying for the Spirit’s help to move forward with fresh grace and power. We begin from a place of confession— highlighting how we need Jesus daily— and move forward in how we use tech with our children, in light of His loving kindness.

Remember: coming at our kids with a list of tech rules,  while we continue to browse and scroll as we please, does nothing but sever trust. Teens especially see through all our charades and false bravado. No child will happily hand over her phone during dinner, especially if mom or dad are answering texts and tweets despite the family agreement. 

Authentic, two-way conversations with our kids give us great opportunities to show them the love of God first-hand. At the end of the day, the problem we’re dealing with isn’t tech. It’s our hearts. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus came to rescue broken-hearted sinners like us.