Category Archives: Idols

ABC’s 20/20 “Digital Addiction” Review

Who are we without our cell phones?  I know I’m as guilty of cell phone addiction as my teenagers at times! Like for many, my phone is my calendar, to do list, reminder, notes, contacts, music, photos and a plethora of other apps, including of course social media. And while it is convenient, I admit, my phone often distracts me from fully-focused face time interaction!

In addition to cell phones and social media, an abundance of other electronics – in particular obsessive gaming among adult men – are contributing to our disconnected, disengaged selfie-society. To this end,  ABC’s 20/20 aired a “Digitial Addiction” special highlighting the seriousness of technology’s effect on individuals and families.  Reporter Elizabeth Vargas followed three families’ intervention stories with their family member so addicted to a device it was destroying their daily lives. Through interviews and video diaries, we the viewers were given the behind the scenes look at the individuals’ obsessive behaviors.

Considering my own research on technology use among teens, I’m rarely surprised by statistics on the topic. However, I was quite surprised by the dad so addicted to his video games that he had checked out from his family.  It actually gave me a scary glimpse of possible future realities for a generation of kids whose day-long and into the night playing is something we passively accept. For this dad, it was his unwinding time; his de-stressor. Well, that’s fine in its proper place, but he was leaving his wife to solely tend to their four young children all evening, every evening before she retreated off to bed alone.

In another family the teenage son’s gaming addiction kept him holed up in his room. He got angry and was disrespectful to his parents whenever they asked him to get off.  This in itself signaled another alarming trend with detrimental future consequences, and that is: entitlement. The 20/20 special didn’t hit on entitlement, but in not telling our kids “no” or laying down/enforcing rules we have allowed them to take the reigns of control that leads to a path of being controlled by their idols. (As I’ve fequently written, when anything is elevated to a place in our lives that rules or controls us, it is an idol.)

The third featured family was dealing with a teenage daughter’s phone addiction that included sexting strangers.  While sending inappropriate pictures is happening waaaay more frequently than most of us realize, the constant checking her phone, fear of missing out, staying on her phone well into the night and anxiety without her phone that could describe amost any teenager today. So it struck me  that what was dubbed as “extreme”  behavior has actually been accepted as normal.

None of these individuals realized (or cared) how self-centered and disconnected from their families they had become. So to help them re-engage relationally and sever dependence, a device detox was ordered. Many times this is absolutely necessary. My own daughter at times has deleted her social media. And quite frankly I think it’s needed for more parents to enforce limitations and restrictions on devices for their good and the good of the family.

But at the same time for true heart change, we must address the root behind the ruling idols and addictions. On the surface a cell phone or play station (money or material possessions) may appear to be the problem, but eliminating it from our lives doesn’t change the underneath desires that point to what really rules a heart.

To get there we need to ask probing questions. For instance…

  • Why did the girl have to have her  phone? Because of her fear of missing out and not wanting to feel disconnected.
  • Why was she so afraid of missing out? Perhaps it was a fear of looking bad, experiencing rejection, or not getting the attention she craved.
  • Could it be the reason she wanted attention – to make a name for herself – was in order to feel her worth? What she needed was to hear who Jesus is for her. In him she is perfectly accepted, valued and loved.

For the two consumed with the video games, one sought to escape from life, not wanting to deal with the chaos and responsibility of his household; basically an unwillingness to die to himself. He was looking for “life” in his own pleasure. For the other, he turned to his games as an escape to a virtual world, perhaps out of fear of engaging in real world relationships, or being known.

So we can take away social media or a game console (again, at times necessary), but whatever it is at the core will likely resurface in a new or more extreme way later if we don’t deal with the heart – whatever the ruling desires driving the behavior.  Otherwise, we will only be putting bandaids on the real issues.

Uncovering the sin beneath the sin is not easy, but it is good.  It takes seeing our sin as the idolatry it is in order to see our deep need of the One who rescues us from slavery and sets us free. Only living dependent on him (and nothing else) will we find the true life we seek.

Face Time: Your Identity in a Selfie World comes out Monday! To receive it next week, click: here. Link to 20/20 Digital Addiction special here.

What Teen Boys Battle Just like the Girls (and Adults too!)

In 2015 I conducted an online anonymous teen survey that spread nationwide. I created the survey after learning how social media had negatively contributed to my own daughter’s sense of worth and belief that if she was struggling so many other teenagers must be too. I was right. This data collected is the backbone of my new book.

The original survey went to both girls and boys, but after talking to my publisher about the heart-breaking and eye-opening information filling my inbox we decided to hone in on just the girls. But it absolutely does not mean teen boys are not also struggling. They are… maybe even more unnoticed.

Everything I wrote in Face Time is everything boys need to hear too. I know that from the survey results, and more personally because I have two teenage boys.  Therefore, I felt like I needed to write this post to say that while Face Time is for girls it does not mean boys are immune to struggles with identity and worth. In fact, the content of Part I of Face Time is as applicable to a teen boy, as a teen girl or an adult man or woman. This is because no matter who we are, our hearts are the same!

By God’s design we long for approval, acceptance and love. But we were made to know and feel our worth perfectly in his absolute approval, irrevocable acceptance and loyal love.  But we think his approval, acceptance and love is not enough. So instead of resting secure in who Jesus is for us, we try to secure our worth by gaining the approval, acceptance, attention and love of others.

We do this by looking to our appearance, performance, achievements and status as the qualifier for how well, or how poorly we fair. For a teen boy it may play out like this…

  • He feels inadequate not playing on the “A” team or varsity so he tries to prove his worth and gain the acceptance of others by bragging about how good he really is. The may be coupled with how unfair tryouts were and by talking smack about the guy in the position he covets. By tearing the other guy down he seeks to elevate himself so others accept him; think more highly of him.
  • He is insecure about some aspect of his appearance, so he overcompensates by acting as the class clown. But by drawing attention to himself and receiving laughs what he seeks is to know his worth. To know he’s okay despite his perceived flaws.
  • He is excluded from a social gathering, and retreats into himself, secretly feeling like a nobody. He may blame the others (and there is no doubt kids can be mean), but his own idol is looking to the approval or inclusion of others as the basis of his worth.
  • He gives into peer pressure -starts drinking, smoking pot, having sex – in an effort to look/be cool or to fit in.  Appearing cool, or rebellious, gains him the approval, friends and popularity he craves, which is where he looks to find his identity and worth.
  • He asks for nude pictures from a girl and then shares them in the locker room. Because of the so-called respect he gets from the guys, he too feels cool. At the girl’s expense, his own status and felt worth is increased. On the flip-side her reason for sharing the pictures also stem from a longing for approval and love, which is unpacked further in Face Time.

As parents we can’t take everything at face value. We have to get to the heart (the root) of why they do what they do, and see it for what it is – the idol that’s ruling them.  Whatever it is they (or we) turn to for identity and worth, to fill us, to give us security apart from God is an idol. Uncovering these idols and seeing them as sin is hard, but necessary and good.

Until our kids (and again, us) see how deeply entrenched our sin is – that it’s not just bad external behavior, but our inner desires, motives and idolatry – we miss seeing how deep our need of Jesus’ worth and work for us really is. Therefore, our view of Jesus rises and falls on how much (or little) we need him.

I don’t know about you, but more than my sons’ happiness and success, I want them to become men who know they need Jesus, live under his smile and desire to please him not out of duty, but delightTo get there, my job must be to help them peel back the layers of why they do what they do to see what rules them. And then point them to Jesus.

It is his perfect performance – not theirs – that their true identity must be rooted in.  When it is:  They won’t have to try to assert, defend or prove themselves, work to impress others or try harder to measure up. They won’t have to live threatened by others’ accomplishments or less than in comparison. And while they will experience disappointment, hurt feelings and rejection (just as teen girls do) my prayer is it won’t define them or rock their core because they will know their secure identity and worth in Christ.

For us as parents, being rooted in Christ means we can live free of tying our worth to our kids successes and/or failures and worrying what other people think. We can live loved – fully accepted, knowing we have the absolute approval of the King. And when we do, may his love and acceptance of us drive us to be compassionate toward others in their sin.  For our kids too, let’s encourage them to reach out to love (not ostracize and judge) those seeking an identity in all the wrong places. Because when we know our own sinful heart tendencies and God’s goodness to us despite it, we should be people of grace and mercy who speak to the hope and security found only in Christ.

If you woud like to further unpack the content of this blog for yourself and to help speak into your kids's hearts, Face Time may be the book for you (even if you don't have a teen daughter). To preorder click: here.

Underneath “13 Reasons Why”

Since publishing my recent post on teen suicide, the new Netflix hit series 13 Reasons Why (based off Jay Asher’s book) on this very topic is what everyone is watching – at least what teenagers are. But considering the subject matter and some graphic content I didn’t want my boys holed up with their devices watching and processing alone. So we decided to watch it as a family.

I am not necessarily recommending it – there are some scenes even I couldn’t watch – but for us it was useful for worthwhile and necessary discussions. Not just about suicide. Many themes are brought out through the circumstances and lives of each character. Evaluating all of this with our boys I think helped them see more clearly the root cause for Hannah’s suicide (the main character) and what was going on underneath the surface of each character.

**Spoiler alert: Stop now if you haven’t seen the show and don’t want to read her 13 reasons why.**

Each episode is centered around the cassette tape Hannah Baker leaves behind for the twelve people (one is the subject of two tapes which makes for 13) she indicts as contributors to her death. And while there is much to be said about what Justin, Jessica, Alex, Tyler, Courtney, Marcus, Zach, Ryan, Sheri, Clay, Bryce and Mr. Porter could and should have done differently they are NOT ultimately responsible. What happened to Hannah was her doing.

Please hear me, I absolutely don’t mean this to sound cold and I do not dismiss mental health as a contributing factor. I know mental health can absolutely color how we see oursevles and the world around us. But we also cannot overlook the spiritual.

The show is without religious bent, but I think we need gospel glasses to clearly decipher what is going on in Hannah’s heart, and the others. Looking through these lenses we see Hannah’s thoughts, emotions, and actions so tied to her circumstances, other people’s opinions and sin that she was blinded to who Christ is for her. All she saw were the actions and inactions of others as the basis of her worth, in essence making them her savior. Therefore an identity and hope secured in Christ is missed.

Whether we are a Christ follower or not, each of us are made in the image of God and therefore have intrinsic value. But we are also all tainted by sin. Ever since Adam and Eve took the fruit in the garden, humanity has fallen for the same lies. We think something other than God will give us “life,” or you could say significance or an identity. So just like Adam and Eve we turn to false sources looking to fill our “soul hole.”  But no matter how hard we try we come up empty. Nothing apart from God will ever do the trick because the hole is a God-shaped hole. Anything else we try to stuff it with won’t make us whole.

So for Hannah like all of us, she wanted approval, acceptance and love. She wanted to know she was okay. There is nothing wrong in these desires in and of themselves; we were created this way. The problem is where and how she (and we) look for approval, acceptance and love.

Even had Hannah’s classmates been better friends to her, they would never succeed at perfectly meeting her desires. Both because they are sinful humans and because they were never meant to be the source of satisfaction and fulfillment. Only in Christ do we have the perfect approval, acceptance and love that we long for. And because we do, it is in him that our true identity and worth must lie. Who he is for us must be the gospel self-talk we replay over and over again in our minds to root out the lies Satan would have us believe about ourselves.

By the same token, every character in the show needed the same gospel self-talk. They needed to be reminded that in every way they failed, Christ never failed for them. They need to hear that Christ became sin and bore their shame so they could be free from it. And nothing they did or didn’t do was outside of God’s forgiveness.

Had this been the tape running through their minds instead of Hannah’s, the self-preservation, self-atonement and self-justification we see displayed in them throughout the show could’ve been trumped by grace. By God’s grace they might have been free to admit their failures and sin, and call it for what it was. By his grace they might have been even willing to accept the consequences. And by his grace these things would not define them had they known their identity secure in Christ.

Did some of them do and say some horrible things that hurt Hannah deeply?

Yes.

But Jesus took on all of our hurt, all of our pain, all of our suffering and all of our sin, so he could identify with us in the midst of ours and ensure the end of the story never be without hope. Hope of things to come, promised way back in the garden and secured at the cross. So instead of “Welcome to your tape,” we can hear, “Welcome, my child, you are deeply loved. Always. No matter what.”

Face Time, a book for teen/college girls on identity and worth, comes out May 29th. You can preorder it now: here. Want to join the Book Launch Team? Click here.