Last Sunday, Pastor Clint Tolbert at First Presbyterian Church, Maumee, Ohio, introduced a new sermon series on the book of First John titled, “Living as Children of the Light.” During the introduction, he spoke about the difficulties of being a teenager. He expressed that while being a teenager has always been difficult, teens today face greater challenges than previous generations, “as they seek to become the young men and women that God created them to be.”
One of the insights he offered as to why it is more difficult to be a teenager today, which has stuck with me throughout the week, was with the proliferation of technology and social media the “competing voices” of culture don’t shut off. They are available to be watched and heard and read through technology all the time and everywhere. They are competing voices because they are the voices that don’t share your values as a parent and are opposed to the greatest commandment, as stated by Christ, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30).
Clint’s insight on the impact of competing voices through technology was a good reminder to me to pause as a parent of two teens, and one tween, to evaluate if my voice and the voice Christ is being heard clearly by them. I would guess I am, like most parents, in a struggle to find time that is free from distraction and the busyness of life so that my children can hear my voice clearly. There is always that voice in the back of my head informing me that I could be doing this or that better as a parent. However, within that struggle, I have recently discovered two opportunities to spend time with my daughter, in particular, free from the distractions and competing voices of culture.
The first distraction free time was found by accident even though it can be a source of stress. As my daughter is now sixteen, I have been teaching her to drive. As we have been driving together, with the radio off and the iPhone put away, it has simply been the two of us going down the road, relatively straight, and talking without distractions in between figuring out Roundabouts, left hand turns and how to shut off the high beam headlights when they are turned on accidentally. While I was not expecting this time together to create distraction free space as I was handing her the keys and getting into the passenger seat a little nervously for the first time, it has been valuable for her and me as it has provided moments where I can both hear her voice and speak into her life clearly.
The second way we found distraction free time came about naturally and with less stress involved than navigating Roundabouts. We had been going to the local YMCA to exercise for a few years but normally when we got to the workout area we would separate as she would go to the aerobic equipment and I would go to the free weight area. Our only true time together was in the car ride there and back. However, in the past few weeks, we have changed things up a bit and she began to lift weights with me on occasion rather than going to the aerobic equipment. Besides the health benefits of exercising together, this has become a distraction free block of time where we can talk clearly together about life and figure out where the competing voices of culture may be speaking against the greatest commandment.
While the competing voices of social media and technology are all always around for our teens, I encourage you to try to find spaces that are distraction free where you can speak clearly into their lives. Find spaces where the two of you can figure out where the competing voices of culture are misleading. I believe these spaces often come in situations where you don’t expect them, like during driving lessons or exercising, but they do come. When they come, it is our job as parents to take those moments and speak clearly into their lives so they hear our voices and the voice of Christ rather than the competing voices of culture.