Christine had been dating Michael since they met in their freshman year at college. Halfway through their junior year, Christine sent a photo of herself to Michael. While Christine was clothed in the photo, the angle of the picture gave the impression that she was nude. Her boyfriend forwarded the photo to his friends, complete with a graphic description of his girlfriend’s body and how he intended to use it to his advantage later that evening.
The information forwarded by her boyfriend somehow made its way to Christine’s boss at the Christian mission organization where she worked, and she was fired for not complying with the organization’s policies regarding modesty. To make matters worse, Christine’s parents somehow received the forwarded message and immediately pulled their funding for her education, saying that they weren’t going to pay for her to prostitute herself. Several weeks later, she was asked to step down from her youth leadership position in her church.
Somewhere along the line, Christine was labeled as the loose girl. Peers set social media connections ablaze harassing her and sharing more examples of her lack of modesty. Even though there was ample evidence that most of what was shared was inaccurate and never actually happened (can you say “fake news”?), her reputation as a kind, sweet, Christian girl who was eager to help others was ruined.
Having lost her job, leadership position, and the support of her parents and friends, she became depressed and considered suicide as a way to escape the humiliation she was experiencing. Her plan was diverted only because Amanda, a gracious friend, reached out to her and helped her find a counselor to help her put the fractured pieces of her life back together.
Fortunately for Christine, her story eventually had a happy ending. She managed to get another job and finish her college degree on her own. And in a true example of resilience, she now works for a law firm that frequently represents people whose lives have been significantly affected by cyberbullying and breaches of privacy online.
Christine’s story is only one example of how easily technology may ruin a life and lead kids to despair. It’s also an example of why we must all do a better job of teaching our kids about the pitfalls of technology while placing safeguards around them. To begin with, we need to remember that much of the technology we use exists to make money. The technology our kids consume is designed to influence their beliefs and actions—not to foster their well-being. It’s a business that knows people chase novelty, convenience, information, and entertainment.
In 1998, Dr. B. J. Fogg founded the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. The Lab’s overall mission is to learn how computing products “can be designed to change people’s beliefs and behaviors.” It studies us and how we use computers, mobile devices, websites, tablets, gaming devices, and so on. The Persuasive Technology Lab wants to influence our behaviors, to push us to do what the lab’s leaders decide is beneficial.
It’s an alarming realization, but as parents, we can take charge of this situation.
First, consider your values and perceptions about technology. How did you arrive at your beliefs about internet use? How does your family spend its time? It says in Proverbs 14:30 that “a tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.” We could reasonably say that technology often creates jealousy rather than peacefulness in our minds. As we look at social media, we can easily get a distorted view of other people’s lives and of what we’re supposedly missing out on, which can lead to that bone-rotting envy.
So what can we do to escape from what technology businesses would have us do and from habits that will rot our bones? What can we do to protect our families from the dangers of technology? Actually, quite a lot. The following five suggestions will help you take control of technology before it takes control of you and your family.
- “Welcome to the Lab,” Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, http://captology.stanford.edu/ (accessed September 11, 2018).