Over the past century, the rate of technological advancement has increased exponentially—and with that increase, social opportunities and dilemmas tethered to tech have also multiplied. Parents and ministry leaders today face many of the same challenges as past generations. How do we help children grow into thriving, productive adults? How do we help them steer away from destructive influences and toward their truest and most rooted selves? How do we encourage them to choose a genuine faith in Jesus for themselves?
While ubiquitous tech and media haven’t created many problems, they have amplified old pressures. And when the world can fit in your pocket, these problems become all but inescapable. How can the Church come alongside children—and the parents who raise them—to promote wise tech use in an age where even the most essential tasks can—or, as during the response to COVID-19, must—be done virtually (work, school, doctor’s visits, etc.)? Today’s article, an excerpt from Guiding Children, a report produced in partnership with OneHope, takes a look at Christian parents’ top struggles in terms of media and tech use among their kids and what opportunities this presents for churches.
Peer Influence, Digital Content & Video Games Among Parents’ Top Media Struggles
In analyzing data for Guiding Children, researchers identified a number of trends affecting engaged Christian families and their relationship to the changing landscape of technology, including where parents say they are struggling most right now.
Children also feel the pressures of this changing landscape keenly. Rates of youth anxiety, depression and suicide are climbing sharply—especially during the COVID-19 crisis—more evidence that the childhood years are no longer a refuge from the pressures of the world as they once were.
Prior to the pandemic, Barna asked parents to estimate the number of hours per week their child engages in different activities. There are outliers on both ends of the scale, but the median reported number of hours per week for each activity among engaged Christian families included: 10 hours spent with family in conversation or play, eight hours using media for entertainment, three hours each reading books, participating in extracurricular activities and attending church, two hours searching for information online and one hour socializing with other children in person.
Parents in this study are significantly below national averages reported elsewhere when it comes to the number of hours they say their children use media for entertainment. Regardless of how many hours their children spend on various devices, researchers wanted to understand how engaged Christian parents perceive the impact of media on their child’s faith formation. Barna asked parents to rank a variety of issues according to how great a struggle it is for their parenting and discipleship efforts. The infographic below examines the areas where parents say they struggle most.
One-Third of Engaged Christians Parents Is Media-Stressed
Analysts call those who rank at least two media issues among their top three struggles related to their child’s faith formation “media-stressed parents.” (Media issues include inappropriate internet searches, digital content such as YouTube and Netflix, video games and social media.)
One-third of engaged Christian parents (34%) qualifies as media-stressed. Media-stressed parents are somewhat more apt to have older children (57% ages 10–12 vs. 43% ages 6–9). It follows, then, that older parents—who are more likely than parents in their 20s to have older, plugged-in kids—would likewise be more prone to this kind of anxiety. And in fact, parents 50 and older are more apt to be media-stressed (43%) than parents 24–34 (29%). Older parents may need coaching and guidance to stay informed about their child’s media consumption, presenting an opportunity for churches to partner with them in this effort.
Media-stressed parents are more likely to say their child uses 16 or more hours of entertainment per week. Barna describes this group of kids as “media-engaged.” Thirty-five percent of media-stressed parents are raising media-engaged children. In sum, there is at least some correlation between a parent’s media-stress level and their child’s volume of entertainment consumption.
Not all screen time should be cause for concern; media-engaged children are more likely than others to engage the Bible through some kind of digital technology, whether by app (37% weekly vs. 27% less engaged children), audio (27% weekly vs. 17%) or video (27% weekly vs. 21%). These data point to opportunities for greater biblical engagement among media-engaged kids and media-stressed parents.
Generally speaking, parents of media-engaged children lean more heavily on the Church to provide them with stability and resources for their child’s spiritual growth—in fact, 58 percent of highly engaged Christian parents choose a church with their kids in mind. The Church can be a sorely needed guide for parenting children well when it comes to technology—especially now, during the screen-heavy environment surrounding the current health crisis.
Barna wants to be a resource for church leaders, youth ministers and parents as they partner in the spiritual formation of their children. In light of this, we’ve curated all of our data on engaging with and discipling young people in the Next Generation channel, a resource available exclusively on Barna Access. It is our hope that the findings offered in this channel can help churches and parents partner together to build lasting, strong faith in children of all ages.
Other Barna resources from Guiding Children include:
- A column by Hettie Brittz on the stages of children’s spiritual development
- An article from OneHope president Rob Hoskins on technology as a tremendous tool
- An infographic outlining eight questions every children’s minister should ask to help kids navigate faith in a digital age
About the Research
This study began with qualitative interviews of toy developers, children’s ministry leaders, educators, child development specialists and technology professionals. These interviews were conducted in the fall of 2018 and used a flexible script to explore respondents’ experiences in their specific fields.
A set of quantitative online surveys was subsequently conducted September 17 to October 18, 2018, using an online panel. The sample included 508 self-identified U.S. Christian parents of children ages 6 to 12 who are engaged in their Christian faith. The margin of error for this sample is +/- 4.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
Highly engaged Christian parents have attended a Christian church service within the past month (other than for a holiday or a special event); strongly agree that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and contains truth about the world; strongly agree that they believe Jesus Christ was crucified and raised from the dead to conquer sin and death; strongly agree that they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today; and strongly agree that they desire to pass faith on to their child.
Engaged Christian parents are U.S. adults who are the parent of at least one child ages 6 to 12 and identify as Protestant, Catholic or other Christian, who have attended church within the past month, agree strongly that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that Jesus was crucified and raised, have made a personal commitment to him that is important, and desire to pass along their faith to their child. All participants in this study qualified under this definition.
Media-stressed parents are engaged Christian parents who rank at least two media-related issues in their top three struggles related to their child’s faith formation. (Media-related issues include inappropriate internet searches, digital content such as YouTube and Netflix, video games and social media.)
Media-engaged children are engaged Christian parents report their child spends 16 or more hours each week using media (TV, computer, mobile or gaming device) for entertainment. (Less media-engaged children consume fewer than 16 hours of entertainment media per week, according to their parents.)
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2020