This summer, my book, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, was released (Crossway). It has been received well in the States, and seven international publishers are currently working on translations (Dutch, French, Italian, Malayalam, Polish, Portuguese, and Spanish).
Part of my encouragement comes from the many parents who are using the book in their family devotions, and many pastors who are using the book in family discipleship and teen training contexts. I wrote the book as a tool to equip parents and pastors, those Christians on the front lines in a new awakening to the cataclysmic personal and spiritual changes in the wake of the digital age. In turn, those parents and pastors are strategically positioned to get the book into the hands of the youth and teens of the iGen, and for this I am deeply grateful.
Today I received a copy of the following family discussion guide, written by pastor Chip Cowsert. He serves as the director of student ministries at the historic First Presbyterian Church of Meridian in Mississippi.
I’m posting the guide here with his permission, and with the prayer that it will serve other parents and leaders. Feel free to copy and paste and adapt it to serve your needs.
Family Discussion Guide:
12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You
The following questions are based off Tony Reinke’s book, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. I am challenging each family in our student ministry to put this family discussion guide to work! There are a few open-ended questions and a passage of Scripture for each topic.
A few ways this resource could be used:
1. Work through one topic each week as a family devotion.
2. Pick a few questions to ask and discuss at the dinner table.
3. Buy the book, read along, and ask your family these questions.
Introduction and Chapter 1 — We Are Addicted to Distraction
What is technology? (Share your own definitions, but feel free to look one up.)
What are some good ways technology can be used? What are some harmful ways that technology can be used?
What are some ways that technology (phones, letters, cars, etc.) can improve our relationships?
What are some ways that technology can detract from our relationships?
What are your favorite things to do with smartphones?
We check our smartphones 81,500 times each year, or about every 4.3 minutes of our waking lives. Do you think that’s too much, too little, or about right? Why?
Why do you most often check your phone? Read Psalm 109:2–13.
How do smartphones resemble the hand-carved idols of ancient people?
Chapter 2 — We Ignore Our Own Flesh and Blood
46 of 50 states have outlawed texting and driving. Why do you think that people still do it? How does this practice show a disregard for the people physically closest to us?
Read John 1:14, John 6:51, and 1 Corinthians 15:42–43. In what ways does the Bible speak highly of our physical bodies?
Read 2 John 1:12. Do you think that spending time with someone in person is even better than communicating via technology? Why or why not?
How might our phones prevent us from interacting with the people around us?
Jesus came in the flesh, and commanded us to meet together, to eat the Lord’s Supper, and to be baptized with water. Why do you think that God calls for so much of the Christian life to be done with our bodies?
How might smartphones cause us to ignore our bodies?
Chapter 3 — We Crave Immediate Approval
What are some ways that a teenage girl might seek approval on Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram?
What are some ways that a teenage boy might try to gain approval on Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram?
Does life online feel socially safer than real life? Why or why not?
Do you feel more comfortable knocking or someone’s door or sending them a text? Why?
What are some awkward, boring, or uncomfortable “real life” environments for you? How might these environments be good for you?
Are people more comfortable arguing online or in person? Why do you think that is?
Do you ever find yourself trying to impress people online? How? (This might be a topic for parents to model vulnerability and confession!)
How does knowing Jesus address our deep need for approval? Can you think of (or look up) any verses that address this?
Read Isaiah 43:1–2. How does knowing Jesus reduce our social anxiety?
Chapter 4 — We Lose Our Literacy
What is the best book you’ve ever read? What did you like about it?
Christians, on average, read slightly more books per year than the general population. Why do you think that is?
A fairly large number of Christian smartphone users are beginning to read more books, but more commonly, smartphone users are reading fewer books than ever. Why do you think phones may help some people to read more, but others to read less?
In this chapter, Reinke claims that “by seeking trivial pleasure in our phones, we train ourselves to want more of those trivial pleasures.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
Reinke also argues that reading on our phones is training us to skim quickly (a good skill), but that we may be losing our ability to concentrate on a text or a story. Why might these habits be detrimental to our spiritual health?
As a family, read Psalm 1. What do you think it means to “meditate on the law of the Lord day and night”? What does God promise for those who do?
Chapter 5 — We Feed on the Produced
What celebrities do you like to read, watch, or learn about? What makes them so interesting?
Would it make you uncomfortable to have a really fun day, in a really cool place, and not be able to post a picture of it online? Why or why not?
In this chapter, the author argues that our desire to photograph our most powerful experiences may dull the actual experience and our memory of it. (In other words, we miss out on the depth of an event when we’re busy photographing it.) Do you agree with this? Why or why not?
In this chapter, the author also argues that when we obsess over capturing moments, we are subtly believing that we may never be this close to glory again. How might a Christian worldview challenge that belief?
On the nine-month anniversary of her social media sobriety (from Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter), the author’s wife said, “Compulsive social media habits are a bad trade: your present moment in exchange for an endless series of someone else’s past moments.” What do you think she meant by this? Do you agree?
Read Psalm 19:1. What is one way that you could enjoy God’s creation (without your phone) this week? Ask God to help you see his glory in creation this week.
Chapter 6 — We Become What We “Like”
What is something that a lot of guys in your group of friends wear (a brand, a style)?
What is something that a lot of girls wear?
Why do you think we dress like so many of our friends? Who is someone that you’d like to be more like?
Inevitably, when we worship someone (or find them worthy) we will become like them. By worshiping dead idols, we become spiritually dead. By worshipping trivial comforts, we become trivial (and maybe comfortable). In what ways do you think your phone might be changing you?
Read Isaiah 44:9–20. What are some things (maybe even good things) in your life that may compete with God for the ultimate love of your heart? (Mom and Dad may have to model and explain this.)
If life is about more than what goes on in our smartphones, then how might we practice “digital repentance” in your life? (Some possible examples: Having a ‘no-phone’ Bible reading time on your schedule, going back to a flip phone, deleting a certain app, removing push notifications on your email, only checking email twice a day, having a drawer in your house that your phone goes in during “family hours.”)
Chapter 7 — We Get Lonely
What are some ways that technological advance has worked to isolate us? (For example, the fireplace where families used to gather gave way to central heat; milk delivery replaced by refrigeration, etc.)
Smartphones make for easy social shields. We don’t have to talk in elevators, on buses, or even to our closest friends when we don’t feel like it. How might this be detrimental to our growth as human beings?
Smartphones make it easy for us to “feel connected,” even when we’re by ourselves. How might the absence of regular times of true solitude affect our emotional, intellectual, relational, and spiritual lives?
Read Psalm 46:10.
Why is it important for Christians to spend time in quiet, isolated communion with God? How does this benefit us?
John Piper identified three “candy motives” and three “avoidance motives” that act as lures to checking our smartphones during times of solitude.
1. Novelty candy — we want to know what’s new in the world and among our friends. We don’t want to miss out.
2. Ego Candy — we want to know what people are saying about us and how they are responding to things we’ve said and posted.
3. Entertainment Candy — we want to be fascinated, impressed, weirded out, or shocked.
4. Boredom Avoidance — we want to put off the day ahead, especially if it’s boring or routine.
5. Responsibility Avoidance — we want to put off the burdens of the roles God has called us to as fathers, mothers, employees, bosses, and students.
6. Hardship Avoidance — we want to put off dealing with relational conflicts or the pain, disease, and disabilities of our bodies.
Which of these attractions to smartphones are you most prone to? What are some spiritual truths that could help you gain freedom from that attraction? (Parents, this is a great chance to share gospel truths with your kids. The only way to defeat a desire is to replace it with a more satisfying desire!)
Chapter 8 — We Get Comfortable in Secret Vices
Read 1 Thessalonians 4:3–5.
How does a love for Jesus transform us?
What sins in your life are made more easily accessible by your smartphone? Read Mathew 5:27–28.
In this verse, Jesus challenges us to fight our sin, even if the sin is more comfortable to us than the fight. Have you ever considered radical measures to fight secret sin in your life?
Are there any steps that you could take to fight your sinful habits? Confessing them to a parent? Giving up your smartphone? Giving your parents access to your social media? Keeping your smartphone out of your room? Read Hebrews 12:1-2.
This verse invites us to “look to Jesus” as we run our race. How does looking to Jesus help us “set aside the sin which clings so closely”?
Two questions for self-reflection:
1. Am I safeguarding myself from smartphone sin and practicing smartphone self-denial?
2. Am I simultaneously seeking to satisfy my heart with divine glory, even if it is (for now) invisible?
Chapter 9 — We Lose Meaning
The average output of email and social-media text is estimated at 3.6 trillion words, or about thirty-six million books — typed out every day! How do you think this constant flow is affecting the value of these words to us?
“Neomania” is an addiction to anything that is new within the last five minutes. What are some ways that smartphones produce neomania? In what ways does this cost us?
Read Lamentations 3:22.
Do you think an unhealthy desire to stay current could prevent us from experiencing the timelessness of God? Why or why not?
Read Job 28:1–11 and list the accomplishments of technology that you see. Read Job 28:12–28 and discuss the limitations of technology.
Pray that God would fill your family with great and godly purposes.
Chapter 10 — We Fear Missing Out
Check out this new entry in the Oxford English Dictionary: “FOMO—Fear of missing out, anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”
Now ask this question. “Why does social media seem to be increasing our FOMO”? Why does it hurt so much to feel left out?
Why does it feel so good to flaunt our fun experiences online?
How realistic are the “personas” of the people you follow online? Why? Why could Adam and Eve’s first sin be described as FOMO?
Read Hebrews 4:1 and note that there is one kind of FOMO that God wants us to have (the fear of missing out on eternal rest). Now read Hebrews 3:12–19 and list what actions and habits should accompany this fear.
How does knowing Christ remove the fear of missing out (FOMO) on eternal life?
Chapter 11 — We Become Harsh to One Another
Read Matthew 15:15–20. How should this passage shape the way we think about online disagreements?
Describe a time when something you saw online made you angry.
Why do you think there are so many harsh comments online? Do you think that people are just as harsh in person? Why or why not?
How does James 4:11–12 govern the dirt that we have on other people? What would be some good questions to ask ourselves before posting?
How does a relationship with Jesus transform us into kinder, patient, more optimistic, and more loving people?
Chapter 12 — We Lose Our Place in Time
Read Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 and imagine trying to emotionally engage each of those occasions at once. How deeply can we possibly feel multiple emotions at the same time? Do you ever feel numb as you scroll through tragic news, great accomplishments, trivial jokes, and meaningless updates?
Read Ephesians 5:15–18. What are some things that you’d like to spend more time on? What’s keeping you from doing so?
What are some of the times in Scripture that we are called to “remember”? How could life in the digital age make it difficult to remember what God has done in the past and what he has promised to do in the future?
Do you think it’s a good idea to use several hours each month browsing? Do you think you’re entitled to this time? How does the idea that you’ve been bought with a price affect the way you view your time? Does it?