commentary: A Light To The World

Mark Schindler
Given 15-Dec-18; Sermon #1465c; 13 minutes

Description: (show)

Mark Schindler, maintaining that our response to the evil of the world sets us apart as the light of the world, cautions us not to abandon our children to the custody of interactive smartphones or iPads. In 1989, Charles Krauthammer warned that we are moving into extremely dangerous times and that we ought not abandon our children because of self-indulgence, errantly adopting the notion that children need laps more than naps. In reality they need attention far more than diversion. A recent 60 Minutes exposé on the impact of continual digital exposure on young minds, avers that brain scans of children reveal a disturbing thinning of the cerebral cortex. Furthermore, exposure to more than two hours per day on digital screens apparently lowers scores on thinking and language tests, indicating that a child is unable to transfer two-dimensional digital stimuli into three-dimensional reality; there is no transfer from the iPad to the real world. Because addiction replaces attention, some psychologists have recommended no digital chatting for children under 24 months. As parents, we should curb our own self-indulgence and grab the initiative from AI technology for the well-being of our offspring, enabling them (as well as ourselves) to be lights in this pitch-dark world of sin.

I have titled this commentary “A Light to the World” because, “in all circumstances [no matter what they are], we are to take up the shield of faith . . . the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit . . . ” (Ephesians 6:16, English Standard Version) and the very mind of Christ in truth, while we live in the word of God and navigate our way through the turbulence of a world that is dragging us along with it.

We are to be a light by what we do within “all circumstances,” as it says there in Ephesians 6, by the grace of God and the gifts that He gives as we stand within the truth of God’s word. Our response to the potential evil of this world, under the protection of the Father in the truth, as Jesus requested in John 17, will be what sets us apart from the others in the world in which we live. It will be our actions in following the word of God that will set us apart from this world.

I had originally intended to do a commentary on a purposefully misleading tweet sent out on December 2by Representative-Elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) as described in a Washington Post column on December 4 entitled, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s $21 Trillion Mistake.” Although later walked back in an email by an aide, it remains out there and thoughtlessly believed as truth by tens of thousands. It graphically shows how how easily lies are being spun and consumed as a false alternative reality these days, because critical thinking is being overwhelmed by half- or non-truths being scattered like buckets of seed moving at light speed.

However, this past Thursday, after reading a profoundly moving May 5, 1989 essay by the late Charles Krauthammer entitled, “Illusions of Self-Love,” I rewrote this commentary, based on a related subject, but one of greater importance in our responsibility to prepare our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to continue brightly moving forward, as godly seed and the living testimony of truth.

The 1989 Krauthammer essay pointedly addressed this world’s abandonment of others, and especially our children, in the narcissistic pursuit of self-indulgence. It reminded me of our own obligation to do whatever it takes in hard work and sacrifice to use our God-given gifts to fight the good fight for our children, to help them maintain the light of truth in a world where parental control is seen to stifle “the illusion of self love”

These are dangerous times and we can easily be overwhelmed in doing our duty before God to keep our children thinking and looking for truth.

Last Sunday, the first of the three segments on “60 Minutes” featured a study now underway of young minds to see if phones, tablets and other screens are impacting adolescent brain development. This may be a subject we looked at in the past, but in our responsibility to raise godly seed in a world that is mindlessly following each tweet as truth, we must be preparing ourselves and our children to be able to continue to discern fact from fiction, truth form lies.

We must continue to raise up our children in the way they should go and protect them to the best of our abilities, while trusting the Father to keep us from the evil and the inability to think things through!

Most of the following is from a transcript of the "60 Minutes" presentation:

The federal government, through the National Institutes of Health, has launched the most ambitious study of adolescent brain development ever attempted.

At 21 sites across the country, scientists have begun interviewing nine and ten-year-olds and scanning their brains. They'll follow more than 11,000 kids for a decade, and spend $300 million doing it. Dr. Gaya Dowling of the National Institutes of Health gave a glimpse of what they've learned so far.

Dr. Dowling said “The focus when we first started talking about doing this study was tobacco, marijuana, and all drugs. The screen time component really came into play because we were wondering what is the impact? I mean, clearly kids spend so much time on screens.

The first wave of data from brain scans of 4,500 participants is in and it has Dr. Dowling of the NIH and other scientists intrigued.

The MRI's found significant differences in the brains of some kids who use smartphones, tablets, and video games more than seven hours a day.

[I would like to insert here that 7 hours seems like an awful lot of time. Yet not only are the kids using tablets from kindergarten throughout their whole education experiences, but have you seen how much time they spend, eyes glued to the devices, texting, snap-chatting, Instagraming, etc.?]

Dr. Dowling said, "We're sort of in the midst of a natural kind of uncontrolled experiment on the next generation of children."

She continued, “What we can say is that this is what the brains look like of kids who spend a lot of time on screens. And it's not just one pattern."

The colors [in the brain MRIs] show differences in the nine and ten-year-olds' brains. The red color represents premature thinning of the cortex. That's the wrinkly outermost layer of the brain that processes information from the five senses.

Dr. Dowling continued: “That's (a thinning of the cortex is) typically thought to be a maturational process. So what we would expect to see later is happening a little bit earlier. We don't know if it's being caused by the screen time. We don't know yet if it's a bad thing. It won't be until we follow them over time that we will see if there are outcomes that are associated with the differences that we're seeing in this single snapshot."

The interviews and data from the NIH study have already revealed something else: kids who spend more than two hours a day on screens got lower scores on thinking and language tests.

Dr. Dowling continues, “We hope (when the study is complete) a researcher will be able to say whether or not screen time is actually addictive. We'll be able to see not only how much time they are spending, how they perceive it impacting them, but also what are some of the outcomes. And that will get at the question of whether there's addiction or not. Some questions we'll be able to answer in a few years. But some of the really interesting questions about these long-term outcomes, we're gonna have to wait awhile because they need to happen!”

That delay leaves researchers who study technology's impact on very small children anxious.

The feature continues with Dr. Dimitri Christakis. At Seattle Children's Hospital, he was the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics' most recent guidelines for screen time. They now recommend parents, "avoid digital media use, except video chatting, in children younger than 18 to 24 months."

Dr. Christakis said, “In many ways, the concern that investigators like I have is that we're sort of in the midst of a natural kind of uncontrolled experiment on the next generation of children. Toddlers need laps more than apps. So what we do know about babies playing with iPads is that they don't transfer what they learn from the iPad to the real world, which is to say that if you give a child an app where they play with virtual Legos, virtual blocks, and stack them, and then put real blocks in front of them, they start all over. If they try to do it in real life, it's as if they've never done it before! It's not a transferable skill. They don't transfer the knowledge from two dimensions to three.”

Dr. Christakis is one of the few scientists who have already done experiments on the influence screens have on children under the age of two. It's a critical period for human brain development.

He goes on to say, “If you're concerned about your teenager being addicted to their iPhone, your infant is much more vulnerable, and using the exact same device . . . because the experience of making something happen is so much more gratifying to them."

Dr. Christakis then went on to describe a research study where researchers gave toddlers three toys: first a plastic guitar, then an iPad that played musical notes, and finally an iPad with an app that rewarded the kids with lights, colors and sounds.

The results gave them a very good indication that the iPad with the app that rewarded was so engaging that a significantly higher number of toddlers refused to give it up, more so than the other two toys, suggesting a tendency toward addictive, self-satisfying behavior.

We will not have time to go into it right now, but the “60 Minutes” program went on to show that the addictive behavior is being literally programed into the apps. It’s engaging by design, as we heard in a commentary a number of weeks ago. A Google manager who was one of the first Silicon Valley insiders publicly acknowledged that phones and apps are being designed to capture and keep kids' attention.

The same person (Tristan Harris), said, “This is about the war for attention and where that's taking society and where that's taking technology!”

We are in a war for our and our children’s minds!

Are we to run to the hills and abandon technology altogether, as some have done? Of course not! We are to navigate in truth through the times we are in, in all circumstances. However, there is also much evil, and what we do to properly manage our lives and our children’s will require great personal sacrifice to maintain the blazing light of truth.

In this prophesied world where the self-centered, self-indulgent of II Timothy 3:1-7 are “always learning and never able to arrive at the truth”, we must be carefully guiding our children in all circumstances to burn brightly, as they maintain control of their ability to think and carefully measure truth.

We do not have time to go into it now, but there are a number of ways we can teach our children and ourselves to carefully manage and use technology beneficially. But it will take work and self- sacrifice.

Toward the end of his essay that motivated this commentary, Charles Krauthammer wrote,

The answer to Patricia Godley’s question—”what can you do to help me be something I have never been, a parent”—is, First, that there is no way the state can make you love yourself or your child! And second, even if there were, loving yourself certainly is not the problem, nor is loving your child. Every mother loves her child! What is hard is to sacrifice for the child. And that requires not self-love, but it’s opposite, self-denial.

Self-sacrifice is a key component to our responsibility to maintaining the bright light of truth that separates us and our children from a world always learning but never able to arrive at the truth.



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