I spend a lot of my time and mental energy learning how technology interacts with the growing brain, how we as parents can responsibly introduce our children to technology use, and why these issues are important to address. In this realm, I continually hear certain words bandied about when it comes to applying our parental concerns to real life. Parent coaches, mental health experts, education professionals, and wise-tech-use advocates all like to use two words in particular—the “it” words of this parenting generation. The words are empowerment and balance.
Experts tell us parents need to be empowered to lead their children well, and children need to be empowered to make wise choices. We are told to strive for balance between extremes, and if we only feel empowered enough to be wise, we will succeed in living lives of balance, which presumably leads to something good—success, happiness, or whatever it is we want.
I think we’re way off base.
Now let me start off by saying I understand the attraction to these words. Who doesn’t want to feel empowered? We like to feel capable and strong. When we get in touch with our abilities and strengths and learn to put them to productive use we grow in confidence and enjoy a sense of agency. Similarly, balance has an attractive ring to it. We like to think that if we just find the sweet spot of busy enough but not too busy, challenged enough but not too challenged, we’ll somehow find fulfillment and satisfaction in our lives. We think moderation is the road to happiness.
But here’s where we go off track.
When it comes to power, there is only one source of sustainable power; it is God alone. God is the creator of us all and the universe in which we live. Whatever power, whatever influence, whatever agency we have, it is only by the power and grace of God, the giver of all good things. When a client comes to me for coaching, I do them no service if I claim to be able to empower them to parent better, stop bad habits, or initiate good new practices. Power does not come from the support of a good listener or advice from a wise friend. Power cannot be transferred from the pages of a parenting book to the heart of a parent, nor can power be taught to our children, as if somehow they will become wise and mature simply by the practice of making decisions.
No, power comes from the Holy Spirit, and for those of us in Christ we would do well to recognize that without Him we are powerless, but in Him we have great power to live in accordance with the Spirit, and to teach our kids to lead holy lives. Paul encourages the Ephesians, saying, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:18-19a)
As a coach I can listen, educate, assist, advise, suggest, and inform, but I cannot empower. As parents leading our children we can listen, guide, mentor, nurture, discipline, teach, and pray, but again, we cannot empower. Power does not come from people, nor is it cultivated by will. It is a gift of the Spirit, a divine intervention. We must give credit where credit is due.
And now we come to balance, that word that we all like to throw around as a balm to all parental evils. If we only had enough balance our lives would work themselves out. It’s okay if my kids are busy with sports and activities five days a week, as long I remember to balance it out with a couple family meals together. It’s all right if my kids binge on video games or social media apps, as long as I balance them out by reminding them it’s good to look people in they eye and get some fresh air from time to time.
Our kids are not a stew we throw together, adding a little of this and a little of that, and if we add too much spice we can just fix it with a little more broth. It’s not as if the more time they spend in front of a screen, the more time they need outside. When we think in these terms, we deny the reality that there is only so much time, and when we spend it one way, we cannot unspend it and even it out with time spent another way. If our kids are overscheduled, they don’t benefit from another scheduled activity (family dinner); what they need is less on the schedule (and perhaps a few more family dinners in place of other activities). If our kids spend hours each day on their smartphones, simply adding a face to face conversation here and there won’t counteract the effects of that time. To be sure, face to face conversation has many benefits. But we’re fooling ourselves if we think we can just balance our way out of destructive screen habits or misuse of our limited time.
Often, when parents talk about balance we are excusing bad habits or justifying poor choices. Balance and moderation, in proper context, are actually good and healthy things. But in today’s culture we use these words as a way to fool ourselves into thinking we’ll be able to make up for bad choices now with different choices later. How many of us are really prepared to make better choices later? How many of us, when we say we want to balance our son’s video game time with productive time, are willing to consider that perhaps, if we think there are things in our kids’ lives that need balancing, that’s a clue that they, or we, are prioritizing the wrong things?
Why is it that we justify our kids’ dependence on their smartphones, even when we are daily frustrated by their inability to put the devices down? Why do we allow our kids to take their phones to school and ignore their teachers by texting and gaming in class, but don’t have the discipline to take the device away because it is being misused? Why are we so eager to keep our kids busy busy busy, afraid to let them be bored and fidgety? Sometimes, to balance things out, we need to take away. Adding more good doesn’t always serve us well—sometimes we actually need to remove the bad.
For those of us in Christ, we need to pay attention to our priorities. We cannot balance our way to holy living—we must let go of what once held us and tempted us, and move toward that which leads us to righteousness. There is no balancing evil with good, the ungodly with the godly. As Paul puts it, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” (Romans 8:5) We cannot go on pretending that we can counteract our poor behavior, our wasted time, or our misplaced priorities by throwing in a little more good. We must live as though we have died to sin, because we have! (Romans 6:2)
Power and balance, in and of themselves, are good things. But we fool ourselves and justify unhealthy behavior when we misrepresent their meanings and purpose. If we are to parent well, if we are to lead holy lives, if we are to leave a legacy of righteousness for our kids, we must remember the One who enables us to do these things, and strive to be all in for His ways and His wisdom.