If you are like me, you might be constantly bombarded with the, “Why can’t I have a phone, daddy?” question from your children. Perhaps you respond with your reasons for seemingly denying your child this “lifeline” to the outside world. Your child, more than likely, responds with the, “But, all my friends have one.” Maybe you use that infuriating question we all heard growing up, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” This scenario, however, should make us think about when is it the right time for us to give our child a cell phone.
From the outset, I want to argue that wisdom from God should be sought as we make this decision. Realistically all of our children are on different levels of maturity, spirituality, and their engagement with society. This means we need to take many factors into consideration before we hand over this potentially useful and possibly harmful device. In what follows, I would like to offer you a Proverbs approach to making this decision for your child.
The Background of Proverbs
Proverbs was written by the second wisest man to ever walk the earth–the first wisest man is the incarnate Jesus Christ who is the epitome of God’s wisdom (cf. 1 Cor 1:30). After Jesus, the argument could be made that King Solomon would be a distant second. God delighted in giving King Solomon “a wise and discerning mind” beyond what this world has ever seen (1 Kings 3:12). In fact, the Queen of Sheba affirmed the wisdom of Solomon when she came to test him with hard questions, which he answered with ease (cf. 1 Kings 10:1-13). The Queen’s affirmation proves that King Solomon might be the wisest human being to ever walk the earth.
Who wrote Proverbs? When we open the book of the Bible called Proverbs, the opening sentence reads, “The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel.” Clearly the defining descriptors–i.e., Solomon, son of David, king of Israel–identify that the King Solomon we see in 1 Kings is the same person that wrote the wisdom literature recorded in Proverbs. While the Proverbs are designed to point us directly at Jesus who is the embodiment of godly wisdom, they are also to be considered divinely inspired words of wisdom for living a godly life. We need to be reminded that before anyone can live according to God’s design they must first turn from sin and fully trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
The Proverbs Pathway for Parenting
This leads us to ask, “How do we use the Proverbs to decide if it is time give our child a cell phone?” I would like to provide you with 3 answers to that question.
- Remember that you are the parent. King Solomon writes, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck” (Prov. 1:8-9). We need to recognize two truths from this Proverb. First, the implication is that parents have more wisdom than their children. The gray hairs in my hair and beard remind my children that I have lived longer than them. From our longer walk with Jesus and life experiences, we must remind our children that we have more wisdom. This means that children ought to trust our decisions like when to give them a cell phone. Second, our children need to understand that sometimes we know them better than they know themselves. The home is a place where the gospel is proclaimed, but also where the depravity of our hearts is most observed. Be honest, you know which of your children has a propensity to lie, to cheat, to do evil when you are not looking, and to sin in many other ways. You know who is mature, who is walking with Jesus, who is still in rebellion, and how their social group entices them to live. Our biblical wisdom coupled with our knowledge of our children’s hearts temporarily places us in a position of authority over them until they leave our homes. Therefore, remember you are the parent that they need to hear from about why you do or don’t think they should be given access to a cell phone.
- Honestly Evaluate your child’s maturity and spirituality. I am not in the position to define the exact age that a child should be allowed to get a cell phone. Every child is different. Thus, we need to look at their hearts, which is reflected in their actions. In a counseling class I once took, the instructor discussed two types of people on display in Proverbs: the wise person and the foolish person. King Solomon wrote, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Prov. 12:15). To honestly assess your child, you might ask, “Which one of these categories does my child belong?” You need to be honest here. It is very easy as a parent to overlook your child’s faults through the lens of your unconditional love. On the one hand, truly determine if your child acts like a fool by not listening to your teaching or is in persistent rebellion. On the other, evaluate if you think that your child shows appropriate maturity by making good choices or is growing as a follower of Jesus. Your honest assessment will determine if your child is ready to embrace the responsibility that comes with having a cell phone or not. My counseling professor, Dr. Robert D. Jones, once said that the fool receives restrictions while the wise obtains freedoms. This would include whether or not they are ready to have a cell phone.
- If you think your child is ready, gradually give them cell phone privileges. I think it is wrong and foolish for us to give a child full access to all the amenities that a smart phone offers. King Solomon acknowledges that wisdom exists as a progressive characteristic. Look at what Solomon said to his child, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of our heart” (Prov. 3:1-2). Solomon infers that wisdom is a learning experience. Wisdom is something our children gain or grow into like a new pair of shoes we buy in a slightly larger size because we know our children’s feet are going to get bigger. The same is true when we decide that our child should have a cell phone. Perhaps the child can only connect with his or her parents at the start. Over time we can add a few friends to their contacts that we know and trust. As the child makes wise and responsible decisions, we continue to broaden their contacts. In addition, I believe we should heavily monitor their activity at first so we can build trust by knowing that our child is being responsible and godly in their cell phone usage. The most unwise thing a parent can do is give their child full access to all the features a cell phone offers with zero supervision. Sometimes I think we forget that our children are just as depraved as we are, and they have a propensity to sin and rebel against God like we do. We must point them to Jesus by instructing them how to live out the gospel wisely as they are given access to the world through the device in their hands.
To be clear, I am not opposed to getting your young person a cell phone. The ability to connect with our children without delay is a good service that this technology provides. However, cell phones are prone to get young people into major trouble when their sinful condition is not taken into consideration. Perhaps King Solomon’s wisdom to his son in the Proverbs helps us begin to answer the question, “Should I get my child a cell phone?”
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