This pandemic meme says it all. Forrest Gump is sitting on a park bench, and the caption reads, “And just like that, everyone was homeschooling their kids.” Overnight online learning became the new education norm. After just a few months, it became clear that things were not going well.
The New York Times ran the following headline: “As School Moves Online, Many Students Stay Logged Out.” Teachers at some schools across the country report fewer than half of their students are participating in online learning.”1 The article cites some of the reasons why the digital classroom is suffering: spotty internet connections, low-income students with varying levels of technology, and lack of parental supervision. In Philadelphia, it was reported that only sixty-one percent of students attended on an average day. In Boston, only fifty percent of students were logging in or submitting assignments. 2
Just because so many students are not logging on to distance learning platforms doesn’t mean they are not online. Time spent on the internet has soared. 3 Even if students participate in online learning, they are likely also checking social media status, email, text messages, etc. known as rapid toggling. Some people believe this is a form of “multitasking” and therefore increases productivity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Research shows that studying or working in an office in this fashion decreases productivity by as much as forty percent. 4 One study found that multitaskers scored eleven percent lower than those who were not multitasking on a standard comprehension test. Even more troubling, researchers found that just sitting near someone who is multitasking reduces comprehension by seventeen percent. 5
Countless parents around the world found out just how ill-equipped they were. Israeli mom Shiri Kenigsberg Levi’s video rant on Instagram went viral. Here are only a few of her honest comments: “I have four kids. Just imagine how many WhatsApps, how many teachers for each child, how many subjects per child. I’ve got only two computers in the house. All morning they’re fighting over the computers. I go from one child to the other. Here’s science; here’s math. Forget it! How am I supposed to know everything? If we don’t die of corona, we’ll die [of] distance learning.” 6 Her video is resonating with people around the world. It has been translated into more than twenty languages. 7
Despite many years of promises that online learning would enhance education as never before and growing concerns about spreading the COVID-19 virus, there is now a global push to get students back into the physical classroom as soon as possible.
I am not against online learning. In fact, I believe that RenewaNation’s online Christian education platform, iLumenEd Academy, is a prophetic Godsend at this moment in time. What I am advocating is that we learn from and fix the issues discussed in this article. iLumenEd Academy has the potential to be an antidote to another crucial issue facing the church, which is the extremely dangerous curricula being pushed by far-left radical progressives. If there was ever a time to get kids out of the public education system, it is right now.
Addiction to Digital Drugs
Following is a list of the general symptoms of digital addiction. There are more, but in my experience, these are the most common:
Frequently after giving a talk, a parent has come up to me and said something like, “You just described my child to a tee.” I convey to my audiences that most of us experience at least some of these symptoms simply because of our daily stresses. What I’m talking about is an exacerbation of these symptoms brought on by addiction.
The link between excessive smartphone use and depression and suicide hasn’t gone unnoticed by people connected to the tech industry. You might remember when Apple investors urged the tech giant to curb smartphone addiction. 8 An Associated Press article explained why they were concerned: “The investors’ letter cited various studies on the negative effects of smartphones and social media on children’s mental and physical health. Examples include distractions by digital technologies in the classroom, a decreased ability of students to focus on educational tasks, and higher risks of suicide and depression.” 9
In a 2018 release of iOS 12, Apple introduced new features to reduce interruptions and manage screen time. 10 Have these and other tracking apps worked? Perhaps for a small minority, but I see no evidence of wide-scale change. And the primary reason they’re barely making a dent? Implementing accountability apps before eliminating the addiction is like putting a Band-Aid® on a broken leg.
Addiction carries with it a far more powerful force than what accountability apps have to offer. This stronghold must be broken with something more powerful than the addiction, and that is God’s power. “...the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing” (Isa. 10:27b KJV).
Strategies to Balance Over-Dependence of Technology
If you or someone in your home is addicted to technology, a digital detox must come first. With this type of addiction, slowly weaning off of the digital drugs rarely works. In other words, the brain has to “reset” before you can have a measure of self-control over those online activities that can so easily cause us to lose track of time and digital sobriety.
With many people now working from home and students homeschooling, I strongly advise you to keep a regular schedule. Your body, mind, and emotions will thank you for sleeping and getting up at the same time, as well as maintaining consistent daily work, meal, and study hours.
Make sure all bedrooms are free of technology. Do you remember what it felt like the last time you slept for eight hours? Your children need at least nine hours of sleep for proper brain health and cognition.
Be finished with all screen time three hours before bed. That blue screen you’re staring at will inhibit the sleep hormone, melatonin, from being fully released. A consistent lack of proper sleep will wreak havoc on the emotions.
Do not allow your children to look at any screens, including television, before school. This goes for adults before work as well. If you ignore this advice, your attention span will be short and divided, possibly for several hours from the time you stopped looking at the screen. Principals and teachers often tell me that students come to school either extremely hyper from screens or very sleepy due to being online very late at night.
These strategies are not exhaustive. After all, I’ve written two books about this subject, and a third one is on the way. However, if you ask God to help you with just the few I’ve suggested, you will likely be shocked at how your life changes. Family relationships will be better than ever, and your intimacy with God will soar.
Ultimately, it is the parents’ responsibility to oversee their children’s education, beginning with Scripture. “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children” (Deut. 6:6-7a NIV). The early church faced unimaginable challenges yet managed to adapt, grow, and flourish. God will undoubtedly do the same for us if we seek His wisdom and make the necessary Spirit-led, biblically based changes.
Brad Huddleston is an internationally respected speaker, consultant, teacher, and author on important technology and culture issues. He has a degree in Computer Science and a Diploma of Biblical Studies and is a credentialed minister in the Acts 2 Alliance (A2A) movement in Australia. He’s also a frequent guest on radio and television and author of Digital Cocaine: A Journey Toward iBalance and The Dark Side of Technology: Restoring Balance in the Digital Age. Brad and his wife, Beth, live in Virginia. Visit his website at bradhuddleston.com.
1. Dana Goldstein, Adam Popescu, and Nikole Hannah-Jones, “As School Moves Online, Many Students Stay Logged Out,” The New York Times, April 6, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/us/coronavirus-schools-attendance-absent.html.
2. The Editorial Board, “Failure in the Virtual Classroom,” The Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/failure-in-the-virtual-classroom-11592776152.
3. “Media Consumption in the Age of COVID-19,” J.P. Morgan, May 1, 2020, https://www.jpmorgan.com/global/research/media-consumption.
4. “Multitasking: Switching Costs,” American Psychological Association, March 20, 2006, https://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.
5. Geoffrey James, “Sitting Near a Multitasker Decreases Your Intelligence by 17 Percent,” Inc., August 24, 2018, https://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/multitasking-reduces-your-intelligence-by-17.html.
6. Valerie Strauss, “‘If we don’t die of corona, we’ll die of distance learning’—Israeli mom with four kids at home loses it. Here’s her rant.” The Washington Post, March 22, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/22/if-we-dont-die-corona-well-die-distance-learning-israeli-mom-with-four-kids-home-loses-it-heres-her-rant.
7. Talya Minsberg, “An Israeli Mom Ranted About Online Learning, and the Internet Replied: ‘Same’” The New York Times, March 26, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/26/parenting/israeli-mom-coronavirus-remote-learning.html.
8. “Apple investors urge action to curb child gadget addiction,” AP NEWS, January 8, 2018, https://apnews.com/article/5337738caa0140ae9c16dbc743ee1571.
10. “IOS 12 Introduces New Features to Reduce Interruptions and Manage Screen Time,” Apple Newsroom, February 16, 2020, www.apple.com/newsroom/2018/06/ios-12-introduces-new-features-to-reduce-interruptions-and-manage-screen-time.