The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch

Technology has flooded our homes like a tsunami. We’re awash in devices and screens of all kinds, with their near-hypnotic power to capture and monopolize our attention. And what’s more, just as victims of a real tsunami are helpless to restrain the surging waters, so parents may feel the digital deluge is an overwhelming force better met with resigned capitulation than futile resistance.

But there’s a better, more faithful option than simply letting the tech giants dictate to us the terms of use for their bewitching gadgets. In The Tech-Wise Family, Christian author and speaker Andy Crouch shows us the more excellent way. For a short book (221 pages), written in an easy and engaging style, there’s much here to reflect upon and, even better, put into action. Though written with families in view, I commend this book to every Christian. In keeping with our aquatic metaphor, it may just be a lifesaver to keep you and your family from being washed away in technology’s ever-rising floodwaters.

I suspect that though most parents intuitively recognize the dangers of the overuse and misuse of personal technology, they may struggle to articulate their concerns (other than identifying the obvious problems of pornography, wasted time, online bullying, and so on). A strength of Crouch’s book is that he describes the deleterious effects of tech in the context of what, biblically, a family should be and how a family should function. As he explains, a family is meant to form people of character, those who possess and exhibit the virtues of courage and wisdom. To the extent tech addiction and misuse isolates us from others, stymies relationship-building, and stifles heart-level communication, it hinders the character-building process that takes place through healthy family interactions.

Crouch writes:

Technology is good at serving human beings. It even – as in medical or communication technology – saves human lives. It does almost nothing to actually form human beings in the things that that make them worth serving and saving (pg.66).

I ask myself, “What kind of people do I want my children to be?” I find the answer in Scripture – people of faith, character, maturity, love for God and Christ. And then I ask, “How does technology help achieve that?” And the answer is, it doesn’t. At all. As Crouch puts it, technology makes our lives easier, but it doesn’t make us better people. But by God’s blessing, a family does.

So we need a biblical vision of what a family should be when we think about the presence and use of technology in our homes. Crouch does a splendid job of casting that vision. The rest of the book flows naturally from it.

Having said that, one might think the Crouch family – a “tech-wise” family – relies on letter-writing for communications and family sing-alongs for entertainment. Not exactly (though Crouch, also a musician, makes a compelling case for more family singing). Like the rest of us, they use all the usual tech products (and Crouch’s chapter-ending “Reality Checks” show us that his family also struggles with that. These candid admissions make the book read less like a lecture and more like encouraging words from a sympathetic friend who’s dealing with the same problems as you). Crouch’s argument is not to return to pre-internet 1995 but, as the subtitle of his book states, to put “technology in its proper place.” The goal is using tech wisely.

Nevertheless, the strategies he advocates to achieve that may seem radical to parents who have set few or no limits on their family’s tech use (and surely will be seen as nothing less than draconian by their kids!). Crouch’s philosophy is “almost almost Amish.” He organizes his suggestions for tech use into “Ten Tech-Wise Commitments.” They are:

1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.

2. We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.

3. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play, and rest together.

4. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.

5. We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home.

6. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.

7. Car time is conversation time.

8. Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.

9. We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.

10. We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.

Crouch provides much food for thought as he expands on each of the “ten commitments.” I found some of his observations and insights particularly helpful, some enlightening, and some a bit of both. As a Presbyterian, I appreciated his thoughts on the biblical Sabbath – it’s not just a day to keep holy, but a principle of taking regular breaks from activities such as tech use. Even this practice alone (scheduled time away from tech) would probably do most families a world of good.

His explanation, based on Sherry Turkle’s book Reclaiming Conversation, that it usually takes about seven minutes for a meaningful conversation to develop (and thus frequent phone-checking almost guarantees one won’t), was most useful. Crouch advises no tech use in cars simply to allow real conversations to naturally emerge from the time together. Having one in our family that belongs to that tribe of people not known for their loquacity, teenage boys, I will remember this observation.

And Crouch’s thoughts on pornography were both frightening and hopeful. Frightening, because of his realism that even the tightest filters and most guarded home wi-fi systems cannot guarantee that sexual content will not find its way onto our children’s devices (or, that our children will not find it if they are clever and determined enough to do so). Hopeful, because he explains how a healthy family environment, like the one he describes early in the book, can serve as a powerful defense against pornography.

I plan to put into practice some of the ideas, or at least some form of some of the ideas, for my own family (I’ve already warned the kids this is coming; their reaction has been a odd mix of amusement and dread!). Maybe I’ll write another post to report on how we are doing. But I believe all Christian parents would profit from reading The Tech-Wise Family. There is just too much at stake to blithely allow tech’s insidious influence remain unchecked in our homes. There’s no app to make us wise and faithful users of tech. We need courage, self-control, and diligence – only God’s grace can give us those things. We also need encouragement and solid practical advice. The Tech-Wise Family provides that in abundance.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Pastor Scott