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How to Build a Hedge (START HERE, #2)

One of the questions I address most often is “How can we make tech safe at home?” In last week’s episode we addressed the two types of tech and how to know if tech is healthy. Today we look at building a hedge around our devices, networks, and families.

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Hello everyone, and welcome to the Gospel Tech podcast. My name is Nathan Sutherland. And this podcast is dedicated to helping families love God and use tech. We are in the beginning of our Start Here series. This is the kickoff to the new year of 2024, and we are looking at specifically all the little conversations that come up the most often that can be the most help to families when we talk about how do we love God and use tech? And specifically how do we raise up kids who use tech on purpose not for purpose? Last week we talked about what are the two kinds of tech? How do we know if it’s healthy? That’s tool and rule tech and reset. You can go check out that episode if you would like to know more on that.

Today, we’re going to be talking about how do we make tech safe at home? And we’re going to break it down into three parts. These are the most common hedges that I like to talk about for building. We’re going to talk about how do we build a hedge around our family, how do we build one around our network and around our devices? It’s the big picture conversation so we won’t be getting super nitty gritty, but I’ll give you practical solutions, things you can use to help your family and some conversational phrases, some words to use to help kick off this conversation, whether it’s the first time you’ve thought about it and you have little kids, it doesn’t even apply yet or you wish you had heard this podcast three years ago and you just need to put out some fires, both sides of this, this will be useful because, well, we all need to make tech safe at home. Even if we’re empty nesting it and our grandkids haven’t shown up yet and asked for tech, we need to have this conversation with ourselves, with our families, with our neighbors and loved ones. With no further ado, let’s get this conversation started.

All right, we have this conversation coming on here about how can we make tech safe at home? Three parts. We’re going to talk about building hedges. I like the image of a hedge because a hedge is permeable. It’s not about a wall that I’m trusting to keep me safe, it’s not building a fortress or a castle. If we try to build high enough walls, enough boundaries and enough rules that our kids can’t make mistakes, two problems. One, they’re going to make mistakes because a kid who wants to make a mistake with tech is going to make one. I was raised with 288 dial up internet and I still managed to make mistakes online on purpose. This is while going to a Christian school. This is without the internet in my pocket while I’m walking around. There were no smartphones when I was in middle school and high school. And it took a while to make a mistake. And the mistake made noise. You had to dial up to the internet. Young people, I don’t know, ask your grandparents, but it was a thing, and I still managed to do it.

Your young person with nearly infinite access to the internet through public spaces, through friends’ smartphones, through active public Wi-Fi is going to be able to find the internet, so then our job isn’t to mistake proof them, it’s to mistake resilient them. How do we encourage their hearts to not just avoid the bad things but look at the best things, to recognize their identity in Christ and to live from that? Rather than just go, “Oh, I need to not make mistakes online.” And they go through their day going, “Don’t make a mistake, don’t make a mistake, don’t make a mistake.” That isn’t what we’re called for. We’re called to look like Jesus, to do the good works that He’s prepared beforehand for us to do, so let’s then talk about this. These hedges are how we put a buffer between us and mistakes, how we make it hard to make a mistake but also make it easy to recognize. When someone’s run through the bushes, you can see it. You’re like, “Hey, there’s a hole in that bush. What’s going on over there?”

I recently got an email from a parent saying, “Hey, I’m recognizing these problems with my child. I believe this child is sneaking around, circumnavigating the safety network we have.” And very evident just based on the scenario. “Yes, your child is sneaking,” and to the point like deleting search history, devices missing when they weren’t supposed to be, these kinds of things. Great.

Two things you need to do. First, you need to make sure you have a clear conversation about expectations. Have you set up here’s how we use tech appropriately, here’s why we have those rules? And second, you need to just start with the, “Hey, we saw the hole in the bushes. We noticed the search history’s deleted. Mom and I didn’t do it. What’s going on? How’d you find out how to delete search history? Was it a friend? Did you have to Google it? What’s going on? And two, what made you feel like you had to do it?” This is God walking in the garden going, “Adam, where are you? Hey, who told you you were naked?” That’s the question you have to ask the child who’s making these mistakes.

And that’s the point of the hedge is because sometimes it’s hard to know when they’ve made the mistake. And we can’t rely on self-reporting because the fifth amendment is a thing. It’s very hard to tell on ourselves even when we want someone to know. We have to get caught. This is where the hedges come in. Hedge number one is going to be around our family, hedge two is around our network, and hedge three is around our devices. How do we make tech save at home? You build hedges. Why hedges? Because they’re going to keep the relationship open, they’re going to put danger away, and they’re going to help us point our kids towards hope, not just away from bad stuff. And again, it’s family, network, devices in that order.

All right, let’s go with family. This is the conversational piece, as I mentioned to that family who came with their email and said, “Hey, before you go super sleuth and start trying to figure out what went wrong and what they get into, you have to establish the relationship.” And parents, that’s what all of us need to start with. We need to start with the conversation. We need to talk about what our expectations are, why this is around technology. It’s not just that we’re scared of technology. Maybe it is that you’re scared of technology; and that’s okay. It can be very loving to be scared. We should be scared in dangerous situations, it’s a natural and healthy and loving reaction, but we shouldn’t simply act out of fear. “Hey, I’ve seen this is dangerous and that makes me fear for you,” and therefore point to the hope. The third piece is hope. Open conversation clearly stating, “Here’s our boundaries. These are our family rules. Here’s why.” And feel free to bring up the dangerous side, but that it’s always coming out of the hope piece. “I am concerned about this particular kind of technology because of its influence, because of its content, because of its design, because it doesn’t seem to be positive for you.”

You’re welcome to, as we go back to last week’s episode, say, “Hey, I’ve noticed when you use this video game, this music, this social media platform, this particular device or app that this thing in your relationships, responsibilities, emotions, sleep, enjoyment and time, this part of you goes off the rails in direct correlation with the introduction to this tech, and I’m concerned about that.” Just that can be your start. You don’t know where it ends, you don’t know what the… “Oh, and if you become an adult with that, this terrible thing will happen.” You don’t even need to get there. You just say, “Right now I love you and I’m seeing that this pivots in a negative way whenever you use it. What’s going on?” Have that begin your conversation. Expectations is number one.

The reason we start with expectations is because we’re talking about family rules and building a hedge around our family so we need to know what to expect. And yes, you do have to say it out loud. You can’t just say, “Don’t be stupid.” Or like Google said, “Don’t be evil.” We need a definition of evil because unfortunately, as we’ve seen as the internet has progressed, not everyone’s on the same page for what evil means. As Christians, we have a very clear definition of evil. It’s anytime we look to something for our satisfaction and purpose that’s outside of God, that’s evil. We call it sin, but that is the definition of evil. It’s the antithesis of God’s character. If we’re pursuing God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, there’s no evil in that. It’s going to end well and we are going to have a life and we’re going to see fruit that lines up with that. And when we don’t, something is wrong and we go and start pulling on that thread and start figuring out what’s happening here. Family expectations.

And then we need to go into some more detailed, some nuance. Parents, if you have five year olds or if you’ve got 15 year olds, all of these apply. First, just basic expectations on tech things. Just simply the one that I like is that all of these rules apply to all the family. I was raised in a home where dad got to eat out of the ice cream container. And why? Well, because he’s dad. There certainly are some things like that like, “Why is dad on his work laptop right now?” “Well, because he has a conference coming up.” That’s going to be dad’s thing. And when he’s using tool tech. And you’re welcome to explain that, but it doesn’t apply to what’s morally right and wrong. “Well, dad’s an adult,” but he doesn’t get to watch something that doesn’t match a biblical standard. Like these rules apply to dad too, these rules apply to mom. These apply to our hearts, our distraction levels, our focus on relationship.

Then we go into time. The way you need to answer with time is when can we use tech, for how long and how often? You must tell your children this. With our kids, we can say, “You can watch one show. It’s 25 minutes once a day.” We don’t have a TV in our home right now, we may one day, but right now it’s a laptop in a drawer. We pull it out and you can watch for this amount of time this frequently. How long? How often? Time of day. What time? I was like there’s a third one. That meaning, hey, we’re not going to do it before school. In our family, that’s not what happens; it’s after school. And then there’s some other priority pieces which we’ll get to in a minute. But that’s our time piece. What time of day can we use this tech for? How long in a given stint? And how many times can we do that?

Another example might be social media. I strongly encourage families to look at 30 minutes as an upper cap for use of social media. That allows you to communicate with your friends, to find out what’s happening, to engage the wide world of information that you’ve earned because you’re trustworthy, and to have a finite end to it so you’re not looking to it for satisfaction. I do this for my job, and I can use social media in under 30 minutes a day. It is possible. And I would argue if you’re doing more than 30 minutes a day, you’re doing it wrong. Something is going off there where you’re getting distracted. And certainly there’s times to… If I’m exercising indoors, I like to have a YouTube video playing. I watch lots of Tour de France and [inaudible 00:10:14] Espania. Okay, we get that, but we’re going to have that conversation of, “We know that this is dedicated time for using this tech.” There’s also stuff I don’t watch in that. Hey, I’m not just going to ingest this other content over here because I found that doesn’t help my heart and my mind.

Then we’re going to go to, all right, we have our time. What about our place? Where is tech going to be used family? Again, five to 15 year olds, you need to have this conversation. 16, 17 need to be brought in too. If they’re 18 and they’re adults, that extends. Now we’re dealing with another adult who happens to be living in our house, and it might change the way you go about explaining this, but the conversation still needs to occur. Two, I guess three rules.

One, places. Let’s not have it in the bedroom. Let’s not have it at the dining table. This is our place of rest and our place of family relationship. And then let’s keep it in a public space. Let’s make it somewhere where the screen faces out so if I’m cooking dinner, I can turn and see, hey, I know what’s happening on that device right now. You’re within eye range, not around a corner, you’re not in a private room, you’re not somewhere where mistakes can happen to you or you can make those mistakes too easily. Can mistakes still occur? Absolutely with you standing there. But the idea is you should know faster than if they were on their own. And there should be other hedges to make that more difficult to do.

We have our time, we have our place. Let’s talk about priorities. I’d mentioned this one with the time one. Priorities, the reason my family doesn’t watch TV before school is it doesn’t line up with our priorities. We have a particular rhythm to our morning, and that rhythm takes priority. We prioritize family, time together if we get that in the morning. If I’m home, I want to be at breakfast with my family. That’s just a priority that I have because sometimes I’m gone in the mornings, sometimes I’m gone at night. I can be gone at this job, especially if I’m doing workshops and parent talks, those are mornings and evenings. It’s when my kids are home that I’m gone the most. And I’ll be home in the middle of the day when my kids are gone. That is important for me; that’s why that’s a priority. But just know that you’ve got yours.

Then priorities on, all right, we’re going to have family, our faith, we’re going to make sure that we are reading together or worshiping together, that the kids are practicing independent faith pursuit, their friends and their schoolwork; their future. Family, faith, friends, and future are all priorities, then technology can come in.

Absolutely, 30 minutes, you can watch this show once a day for 30 minutes. That’s what I said for our time, but that’s once we’ve had our family requirements. That includes chores, that includes family dinners. Then we’re going to make sure that we’ve seen people. If we have a hangout with people, you don’t get your show in the corner while we’re hanging out with people because this is a show day. No, no, it’s not a priority. Friends are the priority now. There’s family, friend, our future, you’re going to make sure your schoolwork is done, and we’re going to make sure that we’ve left room in our day to pray. We’re going to make sure we have some time to personally… My eight and 10 year olds are old enough now to read the Bible with me or for a couple minutes on their own and to practice writing a one sentence journal entry. Or if you have family worship time or if you corporately read together, whatever it is, those things are priorities in our family. You need to make sure that you’ve said out loud, “This is a priority for us. Yes, that game is cool. Yes, that social media platform’s great and you’ve earned it and it’s great for you and we just don’t have time today. We have other requirements, we have other expectations. We are prioritizing these things.”

Certainly there is a time to say, “You know what? I’ve committed to you and this is important to us and we want you to get this time, so here is this slot of day when you earn this opportunity. This is your chance as a family member to enjoy this wonderful, beautiful piece of technology.” Great. But keep in mind it still needs to fall in a pecking order of rank. And at some point it may not be a high enough priority, and you can say that. You can say, “Hey, I love you and I want to give you good stuff; we just don’t have time for it right now so the answer is no.” And that then begins a conversation.

If your child cannot be satisfied with that answer, either you’re being unreasonable and you need to change your expectations and have that conversation as a family or that tech has a really strong pull on your child’s satisfaction. There’s some part of it that’s being used for purpose rather than on purpose, meaning your child needs this to be okay somehow and they’re not getting it, and therefore they’re not okay, and that then becomes your conversation piece of, “Hey, you know what? This is showing me that maybe this tech has a little bit stronger grab on you than I thought it did. Let’s talk that out. Is that something that’s going on with the tech? Is there something else going on in life? How can we make sure that this is healthful and okay for you?”

And finally, I’ll end on this one is we have our time, our place of priorities, we talk about content. And there’s really two parts to content. The first side of content is the content itself like is what’s being engaged either in this platform or this game or this show or this music, is it good? Is this edifying content? And the second part is what kind of fruit does it produce?

To tackle the first with my family, we use Philippians 4:8. And Philippians 4:8 reads, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there’s anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” This hearkens back to when Paul in Romans 8:4 and 5 says, “Set your minds on the things of the spirit, not on the things of the flesh.” How do we do that? We find good stuff and we pour ourselves into it. We dedicate our mind and our time and our efforts and our hearts to it reading God’s word, certainly worshiping, prayer, so the spiritual disciplines come in, but also the things we do in life.

There’s the beautiful quote from the… Oh my goodness, I’m afraid his name… The guy that the movie Chariots of Fire is made after. But he’s talking about how he runs. And his sister’s like, “Hey, you wanted to be a missionary. Aren’t you going to do that?” He’s like, “Yeah, I am and I’m going to run for this season because when I run, I feel God’s joy.” And this idea that this is a man who God gave a gift of running, he was really good at it and he could worship the running not to worship running itself, not to worship achievement, but to worship God with his body in action, that everything we do is we are praying. In all things, we should be praying. We can do that.

And I don’t know if you’ve had that experience through a physical exertion or through an activity that you do if you write or you draw or you present or you engage or you serve, but there are things that you’re actively doing, you’re like, “Wow, this is worshiping the Lord and this is a good thing that’s happening right now.” We want our children to have the space for that and to have a framework to understand that. That’s what this is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely. Let’s look at it and go, “Great. Should you listen to that song? Should you play that game? Should you watch that show? Should you engage in that conversation on social media?” If so, phenomenal; it passes the content tick.

You’ll notice I didn’t say, “Did it win enough awards? Is it entertaining? Is it well made?” That’s not what our standard is. And you have to work that out as a family. Talk it out. Again, we live in the real world, so there’s going to be some stuff where you’re like, “You know what? This is…” Let me think if I can think of a specific example. I had a family come and say, “Hey, our son wants to play this video game. It’s not a game that we enjoy.” They talked it out with their son. They said, “Listen, we understand that you are mature enough to discern the subject matter of this game; it’s very violent. But we believe that it handles the violence in a way that is acceptable to our family and that you’re mature enough to discern what’s going on in your heart and what you’re celebrating when you play. And if it gets too dark, if it goes too far, you’re going to be able to cut it off.” Okay, the kid’s been able to show that with the content they read and with the friends they hang out with and the conversations he can have with his parents, so they felt all right with it.

Whereas there’s some families where they’re like, “No, it’s not going to be something we do.” In fact, this is our family. I know this might be a hot button issue, but Harry Potter, some families are like, “Hey, we can’t even touch it with a 10-foot pole.” Some families are like, “We introduced it early and often.” For us and our family, we’ve made the decision, you know what? Right now Harry Potter is too much for these kids for two reasons. One, they’re very sensitive to content. And by book two and a half, you enter effectively World War II era Nazi-ism where this idea of the mud bloods, you have these people that are mixed of magic and non-magic parents. And there’s a whole part of the society that’s like, “Oh, you’re impure and you should be eliminated.” That gets dark in a hurry.

But then you have this piece where they’re using names of things that actually are real in the world like warlocks. That’s a thing. It operates in the real world where someone tries to use nature to their own advantage and power. That’s the idea behind magic in the real world, and that’s not good. I don’t want to encourage that concept that, yeah, if you just leverage the world strong enough, then you’ll make it operate to your will. No, no, no, no, no. That never ends well. Everything happening according to our will is hell. That’s what you will have for eternity. When you’re apart from God, you only have your will to do. That’s the definition of hell. We don’t want that. I have chosen and Anna has chosen to remove this. Even though we can understand that concept and we enjoy the Harry Potter books, we don’t let our kids read it right now. Not a forever thing, but in this season we’ve made the decision you know what? This content for your age is not appropriate for our family. You might disagree. You might be horrified that one day they might read them. I get it. But just know that is a conversation you need to get your conscience wrapped around and communicate with your kids.

The second part then is, all right, we’ve cleared this content, but what’s it producing in my child? This does harken back to the reset when my kid uses this. Galatians 5:22 says, “The things of the spirit are going to produce good fruit, and the good fruit, but the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” I would just take from that, if you go, “All right, can we get more joy self-control? And if my child uses this and they are more self-controlled, please give it to them more often. That would be phenomenal.” If they have more joy, meaning it doesn’t just create a feeling of happiness and now they need that thing to feel okay, but it makes everything else in their life bloom…

I’ve used this example of Wild Kratts, the show. My kids will watch a Wild Kratts episode and it doesn’t make them go, “Oh, the show’s over.” They watch this 20 minute show, and then they sprint into the backyard. And I live in the northwest, so it’s raining seven months out of the year, and right now I have bug hotels under my trampoline. Bug hotels are basically just sticks piled together with some leaves tossed in. And they go out and count how many bugs have shown up. That’s awesome. That increased joy. That’s a big check mark for me, and that’s why I keep bringing up Wild Kratts because I have seen nothing but good come from that with my kids engaging in that way. And it’s great. And they get excited. When they go to the library, they’re always grabbing a book on some kind of critter or biology or something about nature and creation, which is incredible.

And yes, we have lots of conversations about the science behind that and, “But how do I know this versus that?” Those are beautiful conversations that I don’t have to have all the answers for. There’s professionals who do this full time. I can go find their resources and bring it back to my children. We can talk about, “How do we trust the document? How do we know truth? How do we find out reality and what best lines up with it?” Those are important conversations, yes, that eight and 10 year olds want to have. And eventually Hadley, give her another year or two here, she’s going to be on board with it. You need those two forms of content expectations. What’s the expectation for our family with the content we view? And then what’s the impact of that content?

When we talk about building a hedge around our family, ground rules, basic stuff like this is going to apply to everybody. You get to have feedback. If you feel like we’re being unfair, you can always bring a rule up so we can discuss it in relationship, because that’s how we’re doing this. It doesn’t mean we’re going to take your suggestions, but it means you’re going to be heard. It is important, especially if you’ve got kids 10 and up. They need to know their voice is heard, that they’re not going to get in trouble when they make a mistake. Excuse me, that you’re not going to be mad at them when they make a mistake. Getting in trouble, I guess you can be open to interpretation what that means, but the idea is you are not just going to go, “Wow, I never would’ve done that. I’m so disappointed.” You can go, “Wow, that’s not at all what I want for you so we’re going to make some adjustments to make sure that you’re safe, that you’re healthful, that you’re hopeful, and that you’re lined up with who God is calling you to be.”

Changes can happen. Some people would consider that getting in trouble, but it’s not the, “Well, I’m going to make you suffer so you can build some character. That’s not the point. Suffering’s not the end goal, health, hope, purpose is. Then we’re going to look at the fruit that comes out of it because we have time, place, priorities, and content. Boom.

All right, we’ve built a hedge, now we’re going to build a hedge not just around our family but around our network and our devices. The 10,000 foot view on this is around your network means everything that runs off your Wi-Fi needs some form of accountability. Here’s the four stages. You have the general smart home devices. This could be your Nest or your Circle devices that are in your home and… What would you call them? They are the cameras on your front door, they’re your thermostat. This could even be your LED lights, your Roomba, your smart refrigerator that has a TV built into it. Any of these things that don’t have accountability baked into them, they don’t default to safety. That’s our first.

Then we go up to the smart devices that are meant for entertainment. This is things like your smart TVs, your tablets, your family devices. Maybe you’ve got an e-reader out there or family a laptop, that’s kind of your next tier. Yes, they can have individual safety pieces, but they do need protection at the network level. If they connect to your Wi-Fi, they need to be beholden to your family expectations that you’ve already talked about.

Third then is the devices that enter your home. This can be old devices, hand-me-downs. An iPhone 9 that doesn’t even have cell service anymore can still get on the internet. Keep that in mind. Old Kindles, old gaming systems, systems brought over by friends, someone brings a Switch, a PlayStation, an Xbox into your home, someone has given a burner phone, an old phone that’s been handed down from a buddy at school or an old laptop or an old tablet gets on your Wi-Fi. You need to make sure that that thing follows the rules.

I had a family come up to me and say, “Hey, we’ve taken foster kids, and one of the things that we’ve run into is these burner phones.” And that this one step, hedge around your network, having something that makes sure your Wi-Fi follows the same rules. They said it’s single handedly fixed this problem, “Because our kid keeps bringing home devices they get from friends, but he can’t connect to the Wi-Fi without me getting a notification.” I was like, “That’s beautiful,” because then that just starts the conversation, “Hey, what’d you bring home?” “I didn’t bring home anything.” “Well, that’s interesting because a new device just logged onto our Wi-Fi and it wasn’t me and dad, so what’s going on?” That’s where we’re going to then begin. From that, you can also set time limits. You can shut down the internet, do all sorts of things.

Two devices that I really like. If you want new wireless router… And I know that’s a scary word, but bear with me. Router is just the thing that plugs into your wall… Or from your wall, excuse me, with a cable going from cable into the back of this device and this device sends out your wireless internet. It’s usually a little tower device, maybe Comcast or Xfinity or CenturyLink or whoever, you’ve got Amazon, Google, whoever is your internet provider, that’s the little thing that sends out the Wi-Fi. Sometimes they have basic family protections on them, like you can set a bedtime and stuff. That’s awesome. I like the Gryphon router. It’s The reason I like that device is it allows those four categories to be individually managed and individual devices within there to be managed. All that to say my smart TV can be completely locked down and nothing can be accessed through it, but my work laptop could still function. It does require a certain amount of setup. You have to find individual devices and label them. But Gryphon Connect has awesome customer service, and they’re great. And by the way, they’re not sponsors, I just like their device. I use it personally. It’s G-R-Y-P-H-O-N, by the way, Gryphon Connect. You can find it on Best Buy, you can buy them on Amazon now. You can go right through their website.

The second one that I really like, if you like your internet browser, that just sounds overwhelm… Browser. If you like your router, if you like the little tower thing but you want up some more functionality, Bark Home, it’s a little white box. And you just plug it in. The cable comes out of the wall, goes into your Bark Home, and another cable comes from the Bark Home and goes into your router. And the idea is that that provides you another layer of functionality. Again, with seeing what’s happening online, where those devices are going, setting some ground rule expectations, you can or can’t access these websites or these resources, and setting some bedtime stuff. This is the Bark Home. I’ll reference a Bark resource later as well. But love those. That’s a network hedge so that now our home is now operating all on the same expectations. We can get new devices showing up, we can have old devices laying around, but they’re going to follow family rules. That is very important. It’s a way to default to safety when using our technology and keep that conversation open.

And then third and finally is devices. And this could have been its own separate conversation, but what we need to say is really two things. One, the purpose of a personal device… And by this, I mean anything with cell service. This is an e-reader that has cell service, a tablet or a smartphone. If this thing can get on the internet outside of your Wi-Fi, its intention is to be mobile. It’s supposed to keep people connected when they’re not at home, which means there’s a strong argument to be made that this device shouldn’t be out at home.

Certainly, you can talk through your family expectations on what that looks like, but the easiest, the safest, the most accountable way to do this is when you walk in the door with your smartphone, it goes in a drawer, it goes in a box. You get that Aro at, and you get that little box that tracks, it gamifies who’s kept their device off them for the longest. You drop it in there and see. If you can win the day’s prize, you can get stickers, you can get ice cream, whatever, but the idea being that it helps you keep track and be deliberate with putting your device away. Or you can do what we do and we just have a drawer in our kitchen. Now it’s out of sight, out of mind. We’re not on our phones and not on my person unless I’m expecting a call from, I don’t know, a sister who’s going to have a baby. Okay, I’ll keep my phone on me.

But the idea is those personal devices are meant to be out there safety, out there connectivity. When I come home, they blow up our whole hedge at home. Your best Wi-Fi protection in the world doesn’t matter when you have a smartphone and it can drop a hotspot that now can get an Xbox online. That’s a concerning loop that needs to be closed. When friends come over, say, “Hey, your parents know you’re here. They have my number. Drop your phone in the drawer.” And if they’re not willing to do that, that becomes a conversation point. “Hey, what’s going on? We want you here, we want you to be safe. This is our family expectations.” Don’t be militant with it. And by that, I mean don’t just do it to prove a point, do it to have the conversation and to build that relationship. Do it intentionally, do it deliberately. Don’t just give up because they balk the first time.

But there might be some friend checks. There might be some friends that are just there because they thought this was a loose environment away from their parents where they can get away with any kind of tech use they want, and they may not like that you have rules, standards and expectations that are loving and intentional. Okay, that’s a learning spot. But we also don’t need to just have rules to have them. Find your spot on the family expectations and know that it may make sense to put smartphones away when you’re home.

The second thing then is whether you’re home or away, those smartphones have to have some kind of accountability. You can set up some family sharing restrictions. This makes a lot of sense if you’re using an iPhone, because if you notoriously hard to lock down, under settings at the very top, you can go family sharing, and then you can go into some content restriction stuff. Or you can lock down the app store and the app store won’t show up. You can lock down which browser they could use and say, “Hey, you can only use this browser,” and it has X or Y accountability tied to it. You can use Chrome browser, and we put Bark, the software, on there. Great. Well, now when you’re using your browser, Bark will let us know if there’s an unsafe conversation that happens, if you search something that is questionable. If someone says something to you that’s unkind, it looks at text messages and other such. If they’re using the browser to access social media, Bark can see it. But on an iPhone, if they’re using the app itself, like they’re using Instagram, they’re using Snapchat, Bark cannot see the DMs within that. The way around that is don’t give them an iPhone. iPhones might be too much for young people especially to handle. You want to default to a safer device.

The Bark phone came out in January, and it’s stellar. I have a niece who has one, I have multiple families at recent talks who’ve gone and bought them. This is a partnership. GospelTech10 is your checkout code, and they run regular, at least quarterly specials where Bark will give away either a completely free phone as long as you sign up or they’ll give away 50% off. Last time I saw it, it was a Samsung A13. You can check on that. It may be a more modern version. The Bark phone two is coming out. But it’s a slick phone, it works well, but it defaults entirely to safety, meaning no web browser, no app store to start. And then you can give it from the parent app on the parent device. You can dole out the different apps. Say, “Hey, you’ve earned the opportunity to use A, B, or C.” But the Bark phone can see it all now. Even if they use Instagram, you can see the messaging not by reading through their diary because, again, you trust your kid; that’s why you gave them this device. But if something goes wrong, Bark can see it, notify you. You can have the loving conversation.

I love that because that’s a hedge. “Yes, you’re in that space, and I understand, I love you and you want it, and I want to give you good things, but I also want to know when that egg is no longer an egg. You asked me for something good and I gave you an egg, somehow it became a scorpion. You’re getting stung all over. You’re unhealthy, you’re not working well, and I need to intervene because I love you, not because I’m mad at you.” I might be mad at the brokenness of this world that it’s taking my child with it, that something unfair and unjust has happened and I’m going to take steps to deliberately intervene.

When we build hedges around our family, we have our expectations; we talk them out. Then around our network, we either get the new tower or we get the thing that plugs into the tower so the whole family, everything on Wi-Fi has to follow our family rules. And then we do it around our devices because devices are meant to connect us when we’re not at home. And while we’re out there, adults and kids alike, we need accountability. No one should be the only person seeing what’s happening on their phone.

Another great one, I mentioned Bark for phones, by the way, Covenant Eyes is great, but it’s only image-based for pornography. It’s wonderful accountability. And it’s just another set of eyes, so you’re never the only person seeing what’s happening on your phone. And again, it works better on Android devices. It can work on an iPhone, especially if things are locked down. Use something like the Chrome browser with the Covenant Eyes extension attached. But it takes a little more work, so just know that upfront. It isn’t perfect. It would be entirely reasonable to sell back an iPhone and get an Android device for that extra level of accountability, especially for young people.

That’s it. That’s our conversation. We now know the two types of tech, how to know if it’s healthy, and we know how to make it safe at home. Build those hedges, have the conversation, share it with a friend if you know someone who could use this resource and use this information to encourage them and to help them raise up their kids in a tech world to love God and use tech. And then would you join us next week as we continue this conversation about how we can love God and use tech.

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