Digital Discipleship – Subduing the Beast


Today’s young people have the whole world literally at their fingertips. They thrive on the instant connection to others and access to a constant stream of information. The trouble is all this convenience is leading to problems.

  • Researchers are exploring the social impact of technology use. One finding links dependence on electronic media with poor eye contact, the cornerstone of sociability.
  • Problematic Internet Use (an accepted term for what is colloquially known as Internet Addiction) is on the rise and poses huge costs to society.
  • Other commentators note that greater connectivity equates to more intense social isolation.
  • Neuroscientists are concerned with the impact of heavy media consumption on attention spans, and some have raised warning flags about the potential damage that is being done to adolescents’ vulnerable prefrontal cortices.

As parents, it’s easy to feel this whole technology thing is out of control.

The Runaway Beast

The speed of technological advancement creates a frenzy that causes individuals, enterprise, educational systems, and governments to pursue on what often feels like a breathless, willy-nilly chase. Everyone feels they must run and continue sprinting to keep up with the quickening stream of information and change.

Technology is a rampaging beast that we poor villagers are trying to catch and subdue, and it’s dragging us (and our kids) along for a bumpy ride.

We’ve focussed on teaching today’s kids to be cybersmart—to utilise technology—and cybersafe—to avoid digital risks. We’ve tried to harness technology for them, so they don’t miss out on good opportunities or get hurt in the process.

It’s become abundantly clear that cybersafety and tech-savvy aren’t enough. Given the unwieldy nature of the beast, we should be teaching young people to manage technology and media with the aim of holistic wellbeing.

What’s needed is discipline, a rigorous approach to instilling self-control. Digital discipleship is a paradigm for equipping young people to be disciplined users of technology. It addresses the open-slather approach to media consumption that has accompanied the Technological Revolution.

Taming the Beast – What Healthy Media Use Looks Like

Disciplined technology users learn and practise self-control to engage in a healthy way. Healthy Media Use is characterised by awareness and moderation. The user is in charge, not the technology, the device, or the content.

Young people who have a healthy relationship with media and technology:

  • Make value-guided choices about quantity and quality of the media they consume.
  • Are able to use personal values to discern quality, selecting things that are age-appropriate, reliable, and preferably educational.
  • Possess skills to regulate their media activities, such as scheduling, monitoring duration, setting goals and limits, and shutting down without a fuss.
  • Can recognise uncomfortable emotional states (such as anxiety, loneliness, and boredom) and possess skills to handle them without resorting to technology as a default strategy. They have several coping methods that do not involve electronic devices.
  • Have protective routines in place to safeguard their health. For example, shut-down times so their sleep is not interrupted, break-taking habits, and accountability.
  • Can recognise and heed signs of fatigue, such as sore eyes, cramped muscles, fuzzy thinking, irritability, etc.
  • Have an awareness of the addictive nature of some screen activities.
  • Desire and strive for balance in their lives by experiencing a rich variety of interpersonal and physical activities, and consider online time just one facet of their lives rather than the overarching element.
  • Practise good etiquette with digital devices, including prioritising real-world interactions over calls and messages, not using devices during mealtimes, etc.

**The above bullet points come from my article, Screening Screen Use: Preparing Students for Healthy Technology Use, in Screen Education magazine.**

When young people engage with technology from a disciplined, healthy framework, the beastly elements are brought under control. Digi-discipled students will thrive physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially, and society will benefit too with one less rampaging beast on the loose.