/ child neglect / Rut Etheridge III

Virtual Orphans

The sight is as common as it is heartbreaking.  Parents arrive at a play area in the mall, a McDonald’s Playland, or a park.  The kids in tow are eager to run and jump and laugh, and their parents are eager to ignore them.  As the children play with each other, the parents play with their smartphones.   

Parents' fingers text furiously and their eyes flit back and forth over the small screen, not seeing and apparently not caring what their kids are up to.  The scene is especially sad when the preoccupied parent has brought only one child and when that child has no play companions or is terrified to seek one out.  The lonely child goes unnoticed until he or she misbehaves badly enough to distract a now irritated parent from his or her media play.

This situation is not only sad; it is dangerous.  There are the obvious risks of the child’s getting hurt or wandering away.  And beyond the potential threat to the child’s physical safety is the actual damage done to the child’s soul.  Children are perceptive; they have a quick and keen sense of other people’s feelings, especially the feelings people have for them.  They understand intuitively much more than we might want them to.  Whether a parent is electronically engaged in public or at home, a child easily figures out what, or who, means the most to mom and dad.

In our media-crazed culture, it’s not at all unrealistic to imagine parents ignoring their children while blogging about how much they treasure their kids.  And no imagination is needed to read the complaints parents post about their children.  The children may never know what is being said about them in the blogosphere, but they certainly know when their parents view them as a burden rather than a blessing.

As Christians, we serve a Savior who loves children.  Take a look at Mark 10:13-16.  Note Jesus’ anger at His disciples when they tried to prevent parents from bringing their little ones to Him.  And note also the Savior’s delight in cradling these babes in His arms and blessing them.  In Matthew 18:6, Jesus directs a stunningly stern warning at those who would cause Christian children to sin.  Surely the willful ignoring of our children is a breeding ground for their sin!  And surely the Savior is indignant when Facebook friends are more important to parents than the little ones He’s entrusted to their care.  It’s doubtful that any parent would say that posting means more to them than parenting, but what do our daily actions reveal as to our real affections and priorities?

As a father of five young children, I understand the stress that comes with parenting – my wife really understands it!   It's nice to be able to decompress sometimes.  Social media, if handled with biblically defined discretion, can provide some healthy rest and release.  But if mishandled, it tends to utterly absorb our attention and to tyrannize our time.  Without realizing it, we forfeit priceless minutes and even hours, some or all of which could be spent with the young people longing to spend time with us.

Parents, wouldn’t we give our lives for our kids?  If so, shouldn’t we give less of our lives to the digital distractions of our day and more to the people whose lives and well-being God has placed in our hands?

If you find yourself fixated on facebook or tethered to twitter, try turning off your electronic devices and take the time you save to talk to your kids, to pray with them, to play with them – to run, jump and laugh with them.  We parents must never forget how much our love means to our kids, how much they thrive on our undivided attention when we give it gladly.

Yes, parenting is exhausting in every way.  But try to step back from the stress and realize what a wonder these little ones are – and what a wonder it is that God would give them to us as His means of caring for them!  Take time to take long, loving looks at your child or children, and let them see you looking!  When the little ones are hard to handle, consider how soon it will be when they are no longer little.  What will they, and we, remember of this part of their lives?  Will we parents look back on these irreplaceable days and find that we spent more time with our computer than with our kids?  May it never be!  May we parents never make virtual orphans of our children.

And just in case you’re wondering….I’m not neglecting my kids to write this blog :-)

Rut Etheridge III

Rut Etheridge III

Husband to Evelyn; father to Isaiah, Callie, Calvin, Josiah, Sylvia. Pastor and Bible Prof. Loves the risen Christ, family, writing, the ocean, martial arts, Boston sports, coffee, and more coffee.

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