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Taking a Break From Tech

Sometimes tech is just too much for a child, or for a season, and we need to take a step back. I want you to know two things:
  1. It’s reasonable and loving to remove unhealthy tech. Take a tech break.
  2. Tech breaks need to be 30 days.
If you’ve given a RESET, found there’s an issue, and tried to manage the problematic tech but to no avail–it’s time for a tech break. In today’s conversation we’ll discuss:
  • taking 30 days away from unhealthy tech to reset your child’s brain
  • using a RESET to start the conversation
  • building a hedge around your family (family tech framework)
  • how this is both Biblical (Remove, Matthew 5:28-30) (Raise Up, Prov. 22:6) (Good Fruit vs. Bad Fruit, Gal. 5:19-22) and Loving (Give Child an Egg, Not a Scorpion, Luke 11:11)
Finally we’ll talk about replacing with Analog Adventures-pace of real life and how to introduce the tech back again after 30 days. Keep in mind, there’s always a chance you won’t replace it.

Show Notes:


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Nathan Sutherland:

Heavenly Father, thank you for this opportunity to meet today and talk about technology. I ask, God, that you would grant me wisdom to speak and that you would grant us, Lord, eyes to see, in ears to hear as we talk about what it looks like to make space, to live the life you’re calling us to and that our tech would be a part of that and not distract from it. Would you give us the courage to address these topics wisely and to address them intentionally? In Jesus’ name, amen.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Gospel Tech podcast. My name is Nathan Sutherland and this podcast is dedicated to helping families love God and use tech. Today, we are talking about taking a break from tech. This is inspired by a workshop that I ran last night. And during the Q&A, I was asked a number of questions. I was asked one about kids and tablets. I was asked one about the age of smartphones and age of screen time. I was asked about time limits and I was asked about what happens if you see a child is off with their reset, which is effectively the core of what I’m doing. If you took all of those questions, put them together, you have Gospel Tech.

So I wanted to take a specific angle on this, this idea of what do I do with a child who’s either showing an unhealthy area of reset or a child who just may not know how to function without their technology. They’re showing these negative habits of acting up if they don’t get their technology or there’s more fights around technology than you would like there to be. It doesn’t seem like a normal disagreement, it seems that the tech is causing this disagreement or even to the point where we know there’s a compulsive or negative impact of technology. Social media is impacting, video games are impacting, shows they’re impacting, and this is impacting any part of that reset. Their relationships, their enjoyment, their sleep, their emotions, their time.

What do we do? We take a break and it’s a real option. It is available to you. It is not a heroic step that you have to take and do anything above and beyond the pale of what humans can do, but it is a faithful step that sometimes involves some discomfort. And so we’re going to talk today about what does it look like, what does it mean to take a break from technology? What can we do instead, and how can we do that well and lovingly with children of any age group? So that’s what we’re talking about today. And with no further ado, let’s get this conversation started.

Welcome to the Gospel Tech podcast, a resource for parents who feel overwhelmed and outpaced as they raise healthy youth in a tech world. As an educator, parent, and tech user, I want to equip parents with the tools, resources, and confidence they need to raise kids who love God and use tech. Thank you to everyone who’s helped make this podcast possible. Thank you for listening. Thank you for subscribing so you don’t miss any new content, and thank you for sharing it with your friends so they can hear these resources too. Today, we are talking about taking a break from tech and the basic premise on this is it’s okay to remove tech. It can even be loving and sometimes needed. And your time away, if you do this, is not just a day. That’s just a punishment that makes you feel better, we’re talking 30 days away.

30 days is how long it takes for your brain to begin to recover from overstimulation from habitual poor habits that we’ve made either because of behavioral design or poor choices, and to begin to feel like real life is fun again. If you find your child can only get a smile on his or her face because of this technology, if this is the only thing that brings life and light out of them, there’s a really good chance that they’ve adapted to too high a level of stimulation and 30 days is how long that takes to reset.

Some resources on that, you can go to Dr. Victoria Dunckley with the Reset Your Child’s Brain. You could read Dopamine Nation by Anna Lembke. You could check out Glow Kids by Nicholas Carter Ross, and what you’re going to find is the level of stimulation you receive matters. Actually, you could check out Dr. Dmitri Christakis from Seattle Children’s Research Institute. He has a TED Talk that’s probably 10 years old, but awesome. His specialty is basically digital tech and young developing brains, so infants to like two-year old and has been formative in the conversation that, oh, you know what, young brains don’t need any screen time. It’s not beneficial.

And in fact, there’s lots of growing evidence showing us that it just overstimulates kids. He’s one of the ones who helped call out Baby Einstein and that idea that Baby Einstein was showing a lot of brain activity in an FMRI and we’re like, oh, that means these kids are smart because look at how active their brains are and we’re finding out they just are learning how to not be able to focus. So you can find this information out there, it is researched-based, but at the end of the day, we want to make sure that our children, when they ask for something good, they want to have fun, they want to hang out with friends online, they want to play a game, watch a show, listen to music. That’s great. And yet, there is a time and a place where it is too much for them and it is perfectly reasonable to pull that device, that app, that interaction away and say, “Child, I love you.”

This can happen with a young child who’s two or three. This can happen with a 12, 13, 16, or 17-year old. By the time they’re 18, moved out, or just a full-grown adult and need that space to be an adult, that might be a different conversation. But if this child is still under your purview, this is a loving intervention that does need to happen with relationship and conversation. This is not about winning a fight, this is about fighting for your child’s heart when it comes to technology rather than just with them when it comes to tech. So a 30-day break, that’s our conversation. Quick step back and say, “All right, how did we get to this point?”

Well, we had those conversations with the parents and each of these families were basically saying, “Hey, on a reset, with the relationships and responsibilities, emotion, sleep, enjoyment and time, my child is not healthy and I can trace it back to this technology. When they watch this show, listen to this music, play this game, engage in the social media platform or account or whatever it is, negative things are going on and I just need a space.” You’re absolutely correct. The biblical standard for this would be Matthew five. “It is entirely reasonable to cut off and gouge out anything that causes us to sin.” And I want to be very clear that I’m not saying things that are just morally bad in and of themselves. You can sin doing things that are good because sin is anything where we look to for hope or we bring our worship that isn’t God.

And the way you know it’s sin is you look at the fruit it produces. So if I’m doing something digitally and it produces love and joy and peace and patience and kindness, and the end of that is self-control, then I know that this is fruit of the Spirit and these are good things that are coming out of me from doing this good interaction. That is excellent, because we’re not going to have freshwater and saltwater flowing from the same well. So this is coming out from within me and it is being developed by the Lord and it just happens to be coming out from a digital means. That’s great. But if it’s coming out with envy and jealousy and greed and fits of rage, if lust is involved, then we have a dissension, then we have fruit of the flesh.

And we go, “All right, what’s happening? Are we just misusing this technology?” Always an option. Maybe we just need to massage the way we’re using it and go, “Oh, we need it less time or different times or a different device or app we’re using, but we can still be a part of it.” Certainly, but some of us are like me and we don’t have a dial, we have a switch. So for me, I can’t just play some video games, I have to go no video games. I don’t play them all at all, and that’s a prayerful journey I’m on with the Lord. But in our conversation, it doesn’t have to be forever, but you need 30 days because that’s what the research tells us.

The research says there’s a really good chance that if your child is struggling to use any type of drool tech, tech used to consume rather than to create, tech that is designed to take your time, your focus, and your money, it wants you to come back more often than you planned or to stay longer than you intended or to pay more than you wanted to. And with that design, they can develop some habits. Our young people can develop habits that aren’t healthful or purposeful for them. It’s going to be impacting their ability to sleep, their ability to focus, their ability to be in real in-person relationships that God has called us to be in and to be invested in the different ministries and opportunities the Lord gave us because we’re giving our time and attention to this thing that makes us feel good, and then eventually we need to feel good.

So what do we do? Well, 30 days away is our first step. We have a conversation. So this is going to be part of building a hedge around your family is making sure you’ve set expectations. You can actually use this conversation as part of setting these expectations. If you don’t have a hedge around your family, first of all, go back to the what was it, How to Prep your Tech for Fall conversation here in the last few episodes of this podcast and listen to that. When you build a hedge, you’re going to build around your devices, your network, and your family. And in building around your family, that’s relational and conversational. So you’re going to say, son or daughter of mine, we’re removing this technology because I’ve noticed when you use it, X happens. This can happen with a six-year old. We actually had this conversation with one of our children when he was six.

We simply said, “Hey, we’re not going to watch this show. It’s on hold.” You can call it a timeout and you can put the show in timeout, not your child. Hey, this show’s going on a timeout. Why? Because I’ve seen when you watch it, X happens. This bad thing comes out and that’s not what God is calling you to do. So I’m going to lovingly give you something good. You’ve asked for an egg. This isn’t an egg anymore. How do I know it’s a scorpion? Because it stings, it brings hurt, it brings pain, it brings death. That’s not good. We don’t want that for you. So instead of letting this thing continue down this road, we’re cutting it off. We’re removing it. In 30 days, we’ll talk about it again.

There’s a good chance your child will never ask for that again. The show we did that with, it’s come up maybe twice and we just said, no, not right now. Because for us, it was just a little too much and we found replacements and that’s been fine. It didn’t have to be all shows. That’s the first thing you need to talk about is, all right, this is part of our family framework. This content or this time or whatever, needs to be replaced. Then you need to actually replace it with something because we’re not trying to punish our child. We are trying to encourage them and redirect them. Your child’s brain will recalibrate to find in real-life exciting. But please know, parent, this is hard work and it’s important work. Removing that technology for 30 days is loving, but your child may not see it as that at the beginning. This is why the relationship is so, so, so important.

I totally understand if you want to do this incrementally, if you want to say, “Hey, we’re going to try cutting the time in half or taking a few days off,” but just know that all you’re doing is building the conversational engagement with your child, letting them feel like there’s more there, because there’s no way if your child is misusing this in a current setting that simply augmenting it a little bit is going to make a meaningful difference. You’re still going to run into those exact same fights, those exact same behavioral issues, those exact same reset impediments where their sleep is still being impacted and their emotions are still being impacted and it is going to force your hand. But you’re welcome to start that slow and say, “Hey, I know we’re going to take this week off.” And maybe put a disclaimer there, every time you complain about it, we’re going to bump it another day, another week, another whatever. You can certainly do that, but just know what research is telling us is it’s going to be a full month.

It’s a full month for your child to be okay, and what we don’t want to do is get into that first week, which is the hard week, and then simply reintroduce the stimulus that caused the problem in the first place and then just further prolong this season of feeling terrible because all that does is convince your child, they do, in fact, need this technology to be okay and convince you that the fight isn’t winnable, which isn’t true. It takes 30 days. Please stick to it for 30 days. If you commit to this and you say, this is hurting my kid and I love my kid, so we’re removing this, not because I’m fearful of it, because I love my child. So the TV is going away, the screen is going away, the phone, it’s going away. Maybe you buy a Gab phone and just have it activated for a month. It would be a worthwhile investment when it comes to your child’s mind and heart.

We are not talking about doing this and trying to manage or tweak your child to become some kind of superhuman. We’re talking about your child being designed for a purpose by a God who loves him or her, and that this technology is getting in between your child and that purpose. It’s becoming sin because your child is beginning to worship this thing. It’s becoming a spot where your child needs this thing to be okay. They’re not okay if they don’t get their show, they’re not okay if they don’t play their game, they’re not okay if they don’t have their social media connection. That’s where the sin comes in, not because the thing itself is sinful, but their heart is leaning towards worship, saying, “I need this and if I had this, then I’d be okay.” God says, “No, that’s not true. You’re only okay if you have me.” This is what Jesus is saying in John 14 when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

He’s not saying, just make sure you keep all those rules and then make sure that I’m kind of in it with you and you’ll be good. He says, “No, the law boils down to this. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. On this rests all the law and the prophets.” He actually even boils it further down and says, love one another, in John 13, when he washes his disciples feet. And what do we have from that then? Well, with our kiddos anytime they’re saying, sure, I need Jesus. That’s true. Yeah, yeah, I need to have a good heart, but I also need this thing. It’s not going to be okay. That’s what we’re resetting. So you’re taking it away for 30 days. You are having the conversation as part of your hedge around your family about the content, the time, the priorities that are important to your family.

You can go to If you have no idea what I’m talking about with that, it’s an online workshop I made that’ll walk you through it. And then you’re going to replace that with something that is going to be a good fit for your kiddo. Now, there’s huge conversations to be had on Analog Adventures, that’s for another day. But the idea being talk with your kid. Hey, what is it you love about this? If they’re like, well, I need to be on there so that I can have friends, then they’re asking for people in their life. Get them some friends, invite them over to your place, go to a neutral location, go do an activity. But this is something where you are going to learn what it looks like to have fun. If it’s a super young kiddo and they just want that screen to be okay, you’re going to be training them how to have fun.

It might involve buying a couple things. It can be as simple as a couple Hot Wheels. They’re still a $1.99. So for six bucks you can blow your two-year old’s mind. And you know what, you are welcome to keep an extra Hot Wheel or two on you so for that store trip or that time when normally a screen would come out in these 30 days, they might get an extra Hot Wheel and it’s going to be shiny and it’s going to be awesome, and it has crinkly, plastic wrappers that will blow all of their circuits, and that is the kind of investment we might need to make. You might need to set aside 20 bucks to make this work for your two-year-old. And that’s understandable and it’s not always easy in our family budgets, but we’re talking about not the one time you had to do it because you had to finish the shopping trip or you had to take a shower or you had to finish that meal. We get it. Survivalism is a real thing as a parent.

We’re, in this conversation, talking about, and I’m specifically addressing when it becomes a necessity for daily function. Like I can’t cook a meal unless, I can’t get through a store unless, my child isn’t okay, unless. Especially with those young brains, we want to make sure they know how to play independently. It’s very important for their own development. It’s important for them to interact with you as an individual, to see your eyes and have them see yours. Excuse me, I said that the same way. For you to see their eyes and them to see yours. The idea on the social emotional level, what that builds in the conversations when they’re watching your mouth and they’re hearing your words, the language development that happens, the research we see on child development is, you not looking at a screen and them not looking at a screen is important and is what’s best for them. So them learning how to play independently, even if you’re not doing every single thing with them, sure, set 10 minutes aside, play with them and then walk away from your two-year old, from your five-year-old, from your 12-year old.

They don’t need you to be there for hours investing all of your attention. They need you to be deliberate in your parenting and deliberate with the relationship. And some of that means, tech goes away. So Analog Adventures lineup best with what they’re doing. Involve them in your daily life. “Hey, we’re going to have an adventure together. We’re going to go to the hardware store.” That counts. You get drive time, you get conversation time, you get walking time. It will be actually a treasure of an event. You can certainly bring them shopping. You can cook a meal with them. I know that makes more work, so I’m not saying you have to, but sometimes it’s nice just to cook a meal without extra delightful little paws in your food. But these are things you can do and to be intentional with it. I didn’t want to get too far into the weeds on the Analog Adventures. I’m simply saying doing things that are fun as a family.

And I’ll just add this to that. Doing things that happen at the pace of real life, so reading a book together or reading a book alone. Playing a game together, it can be a simple game like Uno, the Papas, we just had a really cool weekend with the Papas and they played Uno with the kids just twice or maybe three times. It’s not hours of Uno, but it’s a couple games and the kids love it, and that’s an awesome modeling experience of like, yeah, we have fun playing this silly little card game Uno Flip. I was just introduced to that. It’s apparently a newfangled version. There’s two sides. So your cards can go from terrible to awesome or awesome to terrible. It was delightful. So try something new maybe. Again, another $12 investment you can make in being deliberate with your fund for a month.

What’s going to happen at the end of the month? Well, at the end of the month, you’re going to continue this conversation with a young person, continually finding activities that fit your budget, your space, and your priorities. Maybe they’re joining a school sport, maybe they’re hanging out with friends. Maybe you’re investing in opportunities. Or maybe, like me, your weather is shutting down and it’s going to rain straight for the next couple of weeks. That happens, we’re still going to look for deliberate ways to have fun away from our screens for 30 days. At the end of 30 days, what do we do? Well, we don’t just throw the tech back at them and go, “Great, we did 30 days. Back out it, Tiger.” We go, first, conversation, “Can we notice a difference?”

I had a young man who came up to me and was like, “I took 30 days off and I actually don’t even want the things that I’d wanted anymore.” Now, that’s not going to be everyone’s epiphany. Obviously, as a parent, that’s our dream is that we’re going to come back after 30 days like, no, mother or father, I do not want my smartphone anymore. There’s a good chance that’s not the case. There is probably something that’s pulling them back. Some of it’s going to be good, some of it might be kind of unhealthy-ish side effects of their previous investment that they’re nostalgic for this connection or this feeling or this experience. So we’re not just going to withhold it forever. What we will say is, depending on their age, we are going to begin this in a slow drip.

We’re going to going to try this again. We’re going to set a specific time and a specific length, and you can engage in this activity again. Maybe it’s on a shared device, a public space, whatever your family rules are, and then you’re going to watch that reset. You’re going to watch the attitude. You’re going to say, are you able to earn trust in these little things? And I would emphasize that heavily on this. The point here isn’t manage your tech better, the point of this is have our hearts that are freed to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Make sure that we can be fully invested in who God’s made us to be. Because, man, taking away the tech is meant to free up our brains. At the end of 30 days, life can start to feel exciting again and the pace of real life doesn’t feel overwhelming or anxiety inducing, and we don’t have to be distracted to be okay.

So when we add this tech, we go, “All right, why are we adding this tech? Does this actually add value to it? Are you trustworthy to earn this level of independence that I’m giving you?” And if so, then great, we’re going to start it in this deliberate amount of time, shorter than usual, a fraction of what you used to be using it. One day a week or one session per day instead of a longer session, whatever it is for your family, 10 minutes instead of an hour kind of thing. And then you’re going to watch what happens, what fruit comes out of this, because you want to make sure that they can certainly use the tech that’s good for them, but that you’re not just reintroducing a bad habit or something that isn’t good. And I saw that in my life, so to use me specifically with my video games, I tried lots of resets. And after 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, sure, I feel good now. And you know what, my friends invited me over and we were going to play some games and I’m totally good with that.

And actually this was, I had a year and a half with no video games and a friend invited me over and we were playing. He’s like, Hey, let’s go play X game. I’m like, yeah, that’d be fun. I haven’t played a game in 18 months. And we played and I was like, you know what, I like this friend. The game was awesome, but I walked away just being like, I wish I had more video games. I didn’t come away liking my friend more, and that was one of my aha moments of recognizing this probably wasn’t going to work out for me. It still took a few years, but that was one of these moments for me as an adult, and that’s what we’re helping our children process is, Hey, when you come back to this, what does it bring out? What’s coming up here? Are you just managing something that’s negative or can this actually be a positive?

That’s our goal, parents, isn’t just managing unhealthy tech so it doesn’t get out of hand because that’s not what God does. God doesn’t manage sin as Pastor Steve Shell once very convictingly told me, “He doesn’t manage sin, He kills it.” And that’s what we want to do with our kids. We don’t want to just manage the snakes and scorpions in their lives, we want to kill them and make sure that they get the eggs that they’ve asked for. They get the good gifts that we as loving parents have the opportunity to give them, gifts like the ability to be present, gifts like the ability to display the talents and passions and abilities that God has given our children and gifts like presence, relationship, and the ability to hear God when he speaks, because we can’t do that when we’re overwhelmed and anxious and constantly pursuing the worship of immediate gratification and using technology for hope rather than from hope.

So I hope that this makes sense, those three books that I mentioned at the very beginning. Again, if you want to read more on this, Dr. Victoria Dunckley has a book called The 30-Day Reset for Your Child’s Brain. Anna Lembke wrote Dopamine Nation, and Dr, not Chris Takas. Oh, no. Now that I said that, I’m not going to remember it, Kardaras wrote Glow Kids. And those three are great. If you want to read more about like, well, is this actually what I’m experiencing? What does this look like for my family? Please know it is completely reasonable to take the tech away in conversation because it’s part of building your family’s hedge. If you don’t have one yet, if you don’t have a family tech framework, this is a great way to begin that conversation and focus it on, these are the things we’re concerned about based on a reset. This is the action we’re going to take and here’s our time limit. It’s going to be 30 days. What do you want to do instead? Let’s find it. Let’s make it a family adventure.

If you think that parenting in this way is going to be easy, that you’re just going to set down the rule and walk away, you are going to be greatly, greatly disillusioned and disappointed. So let me tell you upfront, this is going to be probably a battle. If it’s gotten bad enough to where you’re recognizing the symptoms behaviorally and the heart issues that are going on with it, your child’s going to fight back. They actually think they need this to be okay. There might be tears involved. There might be some yelling from their part, not from yours. Please don’t yell, stay calm. Just know that it can get kind of crazy.

I’ve had a dear friend who came to me and was like, “Ah, I did this with my 10-year old, and he physically threatened me when I removed his device.” In conversation, he didn’t just sneak into the kid’s room and take it. He’s like, “Hey, here’s what’s been going on. We’ve talked about this multiple times, several family rules have been broken just so you know, specifically with where technology was supposed to be”, and the child’s sneaking in this technology in an unhealthy and unsafe way. And he is like, “So you need to give it to me.” And this 10-year old lost his mind and it proceeded to be a 30-day break. And at the end of those 30 days, the child actually took an option for the parents to buy back the device and received another reward and disproportionately more expensive, but gave back the device because after 30 days, this particular child was like, “Yeah, this is worth it.”

That’s what I’m talking about is, recognize it’s going to be hard. The battle is worth it because it’s your child’s heart and mind we’re talking about here, and you are scripturally sound in doing this. Removing and replacing unhealthy technology is both needed and loving. You are doing the right thing. It is worth the battle. Prayerfully seek the Lord in this, and if you need to get friends involved to help support you and talk about it, do that. Tell your community, “Hey, I’m going to be headed into this. Pray for me as I head in. Ask me about it a weekend. Find ways to engage my kid.” Get your community involved with this. And that was going to be community of just people you live around, school mates, sports friends, church members, whatever that is, your social media community. If they can support you on this, that’s incredible, but know that the fight is worth it, that your child is worth it, and that this is a wonderful way to raise up your child in the way they should go.

So I hope this is encouraging. I hope that this idea that it is entirely reasonable to remove or deny a technology, and not only is it reasonable, meaning the right thing to do based on logic and science, but it’s loving. It is the best way to show our child that we care about them and that we want to see them reach their full potential in Christ. So be encouraged in this, parent. Pray into what this can look like and begin that conversation with your kiddos so that they can know how to use tech well. They can see where their own limits and boundaries are, and they can see what might be too far for fun for them.

If you have any questions on this, you can reach out to me, You can also check us out @loveGodusetech on Instagram and Facebook, and you can join us next week as we are going to continue this conversation about how we can love God and use tech.

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