Our Lord wasn’t talking about pre-empting the Jeff Bezos line of eBook readers. Jesus’ subject matter was a bit more compelling. But since we’re now talking about eReaders, let’s chat about the proper use of technology.
Good Soil is a resource promoting John Senior’s vision of restoring Christian culture. We promote what he termed the thousand good books that every child should read. So while it’s out of my lane to give you a TED talk on kids and tech…
Hear me out anyway, okay?
There is a popular saying. “I need to be able to track my child, and giving them a mobile phone is the best way to do that.” It’s called an argument of convenience. The kid that gets a new phone will find it convenient, too. For more reasons than you may imagine.
Once you give them access to the world of TikTok, Snapchat, Line, Tinder, you will be untying the line securing them to the solid dock of childhood. You will set them adrift on an angry sea of images and ideas they do not have the maturity to navigate.
They will get solicited and unsolicited video calls with people you don’t know. Other tech-addicted kids will begin asking them to do things that will confuse or scare them. With constant pressure, many of them will give in. Even if they don’t, they will have emotional scars they can’t even name. It won’t be long before the onslaught of rebellion against your parental authority begins. Such rebellion normally begins in the middle teen years.
But there will be few opportunities for you to guide them in virtue at that point. The information they’re getting from the screen will tell that you’re not the boss of them. That you don’t have a right to know what you’re doing online. It will knock you from your spot as the number one influence in their life. Advertising, pings, rings, text messages, private messages, instant messages will bombard them. You know, just like…
Ahem. Just like us.
Please understand that I’m not saying all technology is bad. Many of us need it for work, either at a workplace or working from home. We prefer it as our main way of keeping in touch with loved ones. We check our bank balances with it. We keep lists and ask questions and ask if we need to bring anything home from the store. There are thousands of apps and ten thousand reasons we could give for using them.
But guess how many compelling reasons there are for giving a child unrestricted access to a mobile device?
Let me flesh out my point. Give your child an iPhone or similar Android device, and they’ll discover the good and the bad. Other children with phones will guide them to the juicy stuff. The edgy stuff. The evil stuff. And they will explore, both from pure and impure motives. Kids are curious. You will forefeit control over whether the content shares your worldview.
Your child will become secretive with their tech
Several companies have created apps whose messages self-implode after an hour or so. Untrackable. Untraceable. Your kids will love it because you won’t be able to scroll across something they shouldn’t have said. Somewhere they shouldn’t have gone, or someone they shouldn’t have been talking to.
This freedom, once given, is painful or impossible to retrieve. It’s like trying to squeeze the proverbial toothpaste back into the tube. Don’t believe me?
If you have a child that already has a mobile device, try this:
Tell them that you now have a portal you can go to that lets you see every website they’ve visited. The phone number of every person they’ve talked to. That you can read all their text messages, and link to every video they’ve viewed. Tell them you’re going to start using it.
What will be the reaction?
Shock. Rage. Tears. Disbelief.
Here’s an unpopular truth:
You have the grave responsibility to track every aspect of your child’s online presence. That doesn’t make you controlling, it makes you their protector. If they don’t agree, you’re already losing in the battle for their soul.
Most of my employers have made me sign an agreement. It says that says they have the right to track every key tap and mouse click I make while using their technology. It is a standard business practice. Your employer has the right to read every email you send. They have the right to record every website you go to. Every instant message you send. Every phone number you call. They pay a team of specialists to keep the network safe and to watch what employees are doing on the computers and mobile devices.
Think of yourself as your children’s IT department
You’re already their Uber, Merry Maids, personal chef, laundry service, pet sitter, and referee. You should be your child’s IT department.
John Senior said to smash the television.
That was a vivid image when he penned it back in the 1980s. The TV was the only screen in the house. Today we’re not talking about the TV, we’re talking about screens. They’re everywhere. Yes, the TV. The home computer. The mobile phone. The tablet. They’re on billboards when we drive and on the sides of buildings. They’re in the pumps at the gas stations. I’ve seen them at eye level above the urinals in several restaurants’ bathrooms.
There is no single screen we can sacrifice as the scapegoat.
I am an advocate for the thousand good books.
Here’s the rub
Most of these books have been in the public domain for decades. They are royalty-free. Newer technology allows them to be digitally imaged and stored. This way, future generations can enjoy them, even after the paper copies have yellowed and turned to dust.
How do you get these digitized books? How do you get the wonderful illustrations drawn by gifted artists, into the hands of real boys and girls?
I’m building this website, with all its resources as one possible answer to that question. But getting these books into the hands of children requires handing them something akin to what I railed about above. With a caveat.
I can’t solve all the world’s problems, but I have a pretty good handle on this one. Let’s summarize:
Giving your children unfiltered digital devices will rob them of their childhood. It will introduce them to a host of evils that they aren’t equipped to deal with.
You have an opportunity to get the thousand good books into your children’s hands. These books will form their imaginations in healthy ways. With guidance, they can instill virtue in a way that even religious education cannot touch. Through the power of poetry and storytelling.
Mobile phones are horrible devices on which to read books. If your child has a device, the primary reason should be for reading the thousand good books.
Such a device should allow them to sit in a comfortable position while reading (instead of slouched forward in front of the home computer or laptop). The answer is a tablet with muscular parental controls.
But not any old tablet
Let’s take a price-filtered look at what is generally available. We’re talking about child-sized hands here so let’s keep the screens around the 8 to 10 inch diameter range.
iPad Pro, 11-inch screen, $800 base price
iPad Mini, 7.69-inch screen, $500 base price
All new iPad, 10.2-inch screen, $330 base price
Android Galaxy Tab 7, 10-inch screen, $230 base price
Kindle Fire HD, 10-inch screen, $150 base price
Kindle Fire 8, 8-inch screen, $60 base price
My picks are the new iPad 10.2-inch base model and the new Kindle Fire HD with a 10-inch screen. My previous pick was the $60 Eight inch Kindle Fire, but after tweaking the display controls on the thousand good books on ISSUU, screen size is an issue. For a truly immersive reading experience, the eight inch screen is simply too small, and the 10 inch screen is just right.
I have also added a recommendation for the base model iPad (not iPad Pro) for two reasons. Form factor plays into it, as another solid 10-inch screen offering, but the price point is also in affordable for many. Add to that the upgraded parental controls that Apple is now offering, and this is a solid choice.
I will put up another post soon going into greater detail on how parental controls on both the iPad and Kindle Fire devices.
Some of these tablets are faster than others. Some blazingly so. Not that it’s going to make any difference for the purpose we have in mind. Your children will be primarily be reading books on them, and that doesn’t consume a lot of resources.
At the present time, I cannot recommend Android tablets other than Kindle Fire because of the lack of depth in parental controls.
What I love about the Kindle Fire is that there is a double layer of parental control. First, there are Parental Controls themselves. But especially for younger users, there is the Amazon Kids app.
With these, you can:
Block social media apps or only allow them to contact people you choose
Block access to the Amazon store
Block email, calendar, and contacts except for those you name
Block the internet browser or only allow access to sites you have approved
Track and report your child’s activity
Block camera use
Restrict location services
Restrict access to wifi
Restrict access to video content
Also, there are robust controls that allow you to:
Set a curfew during which the tablet won’t work
Choose how many hours the child can use the tablet each day
Set timed reading goals
Also, Amazon Kids only allows it to display the content and services you’ve allowed. The interface is clean and straightforward. There are no settings with which the child can fiddle. The books you’ve selected, the videos you’ve okayed, the music you’ve chosen are all accessible from one page.
The proclivities and spending habits of One of the Richest Men in the World aside, Amazon created the ebook universe and its first device. No offense to Project Gutenberg or The Internet Archive. But for our purposes, this Kindle is, as kids nowadays say, “fire.”
Back to the books
Let’s come back around and talk about the thousand good books again. I’ve been spending a fair amount of time uploading PDF versions of these books to the website. Click on the title of the book. It’ll take you to the PDF in a flip-book format.
But for those who find those hard to read, I’ve also linked each individual good book author’s name to the Kindle version of “the complete works of…” that author. They all have hyperlinked tables of content. Many of them contain the original artwork that was in the original. I’m doing this to make it easier for you to set up a comprehensive good books library on your kindle.
Another great thing Amazon offers is family book sharing. Your spouse and your children will get access to each book for the price of one download. Since these are almost all public domain ebooks, most of them cost $1 or $2 each for “the complete works.” And you won’t buy them all at once.
I’m striving to ensure that you have several budget-friendly options. But I’m also trying to help you protect their imaginations and their souls. So, with these suggestions, you will control what apps and activities are on your family’s Kindles. With the tightest controls, it won’t do anything but let them read books. The power to parent remains in your grasp.