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Virtual reality

Parents think their children do it too much. Children want to do it more (they already do it more than six hours every day on average). The online world is drawing our children deeper in and while some embrace this without reservation and others shun every aspect of new technology, desiring the life of the Amish community, most of us are stuck somewhere in between these two extremes. Going out of town on rural retreats with a group of young people can be amusing. “What’s the wifi passcode?” is quickly followed by “What! No wifi!” Yet perhaps amusing is the wrong word. Surely bemusing even concerning is more appropriate. Surrounded by God’s creation, which shouts out, declaring the glory of the invisible God who is clearly seen, our children are not in sync with their surroundings, but looking for their next download fix. Could it be that a yearning for the virtual world is masking a desire for the spiritual?

One of the greatest challenges in discipling this generation is to manage the screen time of our children. If you agree that our children should not be allowed unlimited, unrestricted access online, the question then becomes: Where should we draw the line? The previous generation of parents have mostly not walked this way before to be able to advise us – this was not a parenting discipleship issue a generation ago: children’s TV only lasted a couple of hours a day, the internet was not in the home and computer games took 45 minutes to load on cassette (if you don’t know what a cassette tape is google it!) only to crash after 30 minutes of playtime. We need to talk about it, seek God for wisdom and be proactive in rescuing our children from this trap of the enemy. With the advent of Pokemon Go, the blurring between the virtual world and the real world seems to be increasing further at the expense of the genuine spiritual. Satan loves to work in the counterfeit, producing something that seems spiritually fulfilling, but leads to a deadening of the senses. Excessive screen time damages the brain.[1] Satan wants to steal and destroy, but Jesus wants us to have life in all its fullness.[2] Instead of watching other people’s experiences, we should be experiencing God's life for ourselves. If we taking Philippians 4:8 as a guide to what we should be filling our head with, how does the world of virtual games and virtual friendships compare. This world is not even true. The more technology we have to connect to the more disconnected we become from each other.

Are our children in a spiritual battle? Is there a battle going on for the souls of this generation? Yes! The enemy wants to destroy this generation of world changes, pulling them down and causing rapid cultural shifts away from Biblical norms. Many of these shifts are taking place through the media. Is the demonic realm real? Very much so. We are therefore called to be gatekeepers in our homes. Deciding what we will allow in and what we will resist. In an age of information overload this is a challenge. After all not every game is evil and the internet can be very informative, but whilst this is true let’s also not deny that for many young people the internet is at risk of becoming more important to them than the world around them.

This generation of Christian children are called to stand out from the world. Jesus says that one way they will stand out as His disciples is if they love one another. That is real genuine relationships. Sin and isolation are a barrier to this. While gaming is not necessarily sinful it is isolating in nature. Even when played with other people around the world, there is not the capacity to reach out and touch each other or communicate genuine feelings. Virtual friendships are degraded to a shared experience over the internet, instead of genuinely walking through life’s bumps together. There is no way I can present a detailed and balanced argument for the dangers of the virtual world overtaking the genuine spiritual world we are a part of in 1000 words. What I hope this has done is to put into words what many instinctively feel. A child or young person who spends too much time online is in danger of disconnecting from the world around them in a way that is detrimental to their spiritual growth.

So if you are concerned for this area what can you do?

  1. Define clear boundaries. Set a time limit, put on internet filters, do whatever you have to, so that you are a gate keeper in your home. In our home we have a weekly limit for screen time and a strict ‘no electronics upstairs’ rule that even the parents have to comply with. Many families have a no-electronic-devices-at-mealtimes rule. If this really is a defining issue for this generation then we should be prepared to model healthy usage, set clear boundaries and review them as our children grow and technology develops.

  2. Discern when it is becoming an issue for the children in your life. As Peter writes in 1 Peter 5 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” Discern if specific games are unhelpful in their wider journey with God and let’s fight for our children to have a deep passion for God, and to eagerly desire the best gifts.[3] Psalm 127 describes parents as warriors fighting on behalf of their children. Let’s fight the good fight of faith[4] on their behalf.

  3. Discuss these concerns with the children around you. What do they think about it? More importantly what is God saying to them about it? With some studies showing that gaming can decrease a child’s ability to empathise with others and with the Bible commanding us to show love and put on love above all things, how can they make sure that love for others is more important to them than reaching the next level on their game. Use this as an opportunity to encourage them to seek God’s kingdom first[5] above everything else, knowing that this will lead to a fulfilled life. Train your children to hear and obey the Holy Spirit in this area of their lives, that they may discern what is pleasing to God and pursue Him with all their hearts.

  4. Distract the children around you with a balanced life. Encourage them to connect with the people in the same room as them, not just the people on their phone. Find healthy life affirming activities, not to overload the diary with clubs, but to enhance life together as a family.

Let's fight for this next generation, rescuing them from the schemes of the enemy and releasing them into their divine destiny with God.

_______________________________________________ [1] [2] John 10:10 [3] 1 Corinthians 12:31 [4] 1 Timothy 6:12 [5] Matthew 6:33


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