The Emergence of Digital Childhood — Is This Really Wise?

The easiest way to infuriate the young is to lean into nostalgia. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be nostalgic for a childhood in which the basic equipment for elementary school was pretty much limited to notebooks, pencils, and an occasional ruler. Those days are long gone.

Verizon Wireless recently released a national survey of parents. The study revealed that the average age at which parents give their children their first cell phone is 11.6. Do sixth graders really need a cell phone?

Well, hold on. The same survey indicated that ten percent of parents give their children a cell phone between the ages of 7 and 9. A recent Nielsen Company study indicated that the average age for a first phone in many families may be as low as 9.7.

Most parents said that safety is their concern. But how many 7-9 year-olds are waiting on the curb at the mall for mom to pick them up? Maybe I don’t want to know the answer to that question. In reality, few second-graders need a cell phone for safety in that sense. Something else is going on here, and the net result is that children are being pushed into the digital world at ever-earlier ages.

The Verizon survey also revealed that many parents fail to set any rules or protections for their offspring’s use of the cell phone. The danger of this is increased when it is realized that many of these cell phones are actually smart phones with advanced Internet access and access to social media. This effectively puts a miniature computer with unrestricted Web access in the hands of very young children.

There can be no doubt that we are all now living in a digital world. The digital revolution has wrought wonders and unparalleled access. But it has also brought unprecedented dangers — and those dangers are magnified when it comes to children and teenagers. This Verizon survey should serve as a wake-up call to parents and to all those who care for the coming generation. Childhood is being left in the dust of the digital transformation.

One final observation: When parents did set rules for how a child was to use a cell phone, the most common rule was that the child had to answer the phone when a parent called. Now, that rule makes sense.

The Myth of the Genderless Baby

Back in the nineteenth century, the British people were introduced to a fairy tale about “water babies” through a story written by Rev. Charles Kingsley. The water babies entered folklore, and generations of British children imagined the water babies and their story.

Now, out of Canada comes another strange story, but this one is not a fairy tale. Two Canadian parents have ignited a firestorm over their determination to raise their third child as a “genderless” baby.

As reporter Jayme Poisson reports, “The neighbors know [Kathy] Witterick and her husband, David Stocker, are raising a genderless baby. But they don’t pretend to understand it.”

Well, the neighbors might take these parents at their word, but the very idea of a genderless baby is nonsense. This is not a baby with ambiguous genitalia, a defect that occurs in a very small percentage of births. The parents admit that this baby has a clear biological sex, but they do not want that to become the child’s identity. They want the child to make that determination at a later date.

To no real surprise, these parents classify themselves on the political and ideological left. Their two older children are both boys, but the parents encourage the boys to act and dress in unconventional ways. So much so, that as the reporter informs us, many who see them assume they are girls.

The new baby, named Storm, is dressed and presented in a manner that makes no clear gender statement. Only the parents, the two older boys, and a close family friend know the truth about the child’s biological sex.

As Poisson reports:

“When the baby comes out, even the people who love you the most and know you so intimately, the first question they ask is, ‘Is it a girl or a boy?’” says Witterick, bouncing Storm, dressed in a red-fleece jumper, on her lap at the kitchen table.

“If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” says Stocker.

Well, actually, you do — not in the crass and crude way that Mr. Stoker puts it, but in the virtually universal way that people ask of a baby: Is it a boy or a girl?

The controversy surrounding Storm is a sign of our times. Our rebellion against the Creator has now reached the point that we will deny the fact that our identity is not just our own personal project, but is first of all established in the Creator’s intention — and part of that intention is the fact that we are male or female.

Storm’s parents clearly believe that our personal identity is our own personal project. They lament even the fact that parents make so many decisions for their children. “It’s obnoxious,” Stoker says.

Well, the decision about gender is not something made by parents, but by God. At this point, the Christian worldview and the worldview of secularism run into direct collision. Nevertheless, the objective reality of the child’s gender will eventually become a public issue, regardless of the parents’ intentions. As even they recognize, at some point in the future, decisions about such things as which bathroom the child will use will force the issue.

The major issue at stake in this controversy is the objective reality of sex and gender. We are, in fact, what our genitals tell us we are. This is not because we are genitally determined, but because we were created by a holy God, whose plans and purposes for us are, inescapably, tied to our gender.

Gender is not merely a socially constructed reality. When the Southern Baptist Convention modified its confession of faith, The Baptist Faith & Message, in 2000, it added language that defined gender as “part of the goodness of God’s creation.”

Some observers wondered why that language is important. Now, you know.

The Global Scandal of “The Global Baby”

The Wall Street Journal blows the cover off the international trade in babies and reproductive technologies this week, as reporters Tamara Audi and Arlene Chang tell of the emergence of a market that assembles the “global baby.”

Just consider the shocking introduction to their report:

In a hospital room on the Greek island of Crete with views of a sapphire sea lapping at ancient fortress walls, a Bulgarian woman plans to deliver a baby whose biological mother is an anonymous European egg donor, whose father is Italian, and whose birth is being orchestrated from Los Angeles.

The Bulgarian woman is a surrogate hired by an infertile Italian couple. The business arrangements are very much for-profit, and are negotiated by, described by the Journal as “a California company that searches the world to find the components of its business line.” Audi and Chang then add: “The business, in this case, is creating babies.”

The desire for a child can be overwhelming, as the clients who go to PlanetHospital can attest. Some now turn to these international brokers who, often skirting the laws of respective nations, go around traditional means of adoption and fertility treatments. These companies do their business on a global scale, “often using an egg donor from one country, a sperm donor from another, and a surrogate who will deliver in a third country to make what some industry participants call ‘a world baby.'”

Our Ethics are Agnostic

The report candidly acknowledges the fact that many unborn babies are aborted by means of “selective reductions” – a procedure chillingly detailed in the article. Rudy Rupak, CEO of Planet Hospital, denies ethical responsibility in amazingly candid terms: “Our ethics are agnostic,” he told the paper. “How do you prevent a pedophile from having a baby? If they’re a pedophile then I will leave that to the U.S. government to decide, not me.” These firms are increasingly popular with homosexual male couples, who can arrange to have babies born that will include the DNA of both partners, so long as a common source of donor eggs is used.

The Wall Street Journal deserves credit for this important exposé of the ‘Wild Wild West” of reproductive technologies that is now operating across the globe. Made clear in this article is the fact that there is no adequate means of regulating this business.

Christians must recognize that these technologies are fraught with moral complications — and many of them dramatically so. These technologies, marketed through a global business in babies, threaten to redefine the vary nature of reproduction and the definition of family and parenthood.

On matters of such importance, it is simply evil to say, “Our ethics are agnostic.”

The Retreat from Marriage — A Recipe for Disaster

For reasons that include all that we can learn from this report, and for many more that we know from the Scriptures and Christian wisdom, Christians know that the marginalization of marriage can only lead to unhappiness, unhealthiness, and the unraveling of human relationships.

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On Getting Boys to Read

There is ample documentation to prove that boys are falling behind in reading skills at virtually every age level. In many cases, boys are semi-literate at best, and many never develop adequate reading skills. They never know the pleasures of a book.

Writing in today’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, publisher Thomas Spence offers helpful advice and insight in “How to Raise Boys Who Read.” After expressing appreciation for the fact that many authorities and parents now recognize the problem, Spence asserts: “The bad news is that many of them have perfectly awful ideas for solving it.”

He writes:

Everyone agrees that if boys don’t read well, it’s because they don’t read enough. But why don’t they read? A considerable number of teachers and librarians believe that boys are simply bored by the “stuffy” literature they encounter in school. According to a revealing Associated Press story in July these experts insist that we must “meet them where they are”—that is, pander to boys’ untutored tastes.

For elementary- and middle-school boys, that means “books that exploit [their] love of bodily functions and gross-out humor.” AP reported that one school librarian treats her pupils to “grossology” parties. “Just get ’em reading,” she counsels cheerily. “Worry about what they’re reading later.”

Spence isn’t buying that argument, and for good reason. It turns out that boys are not finding an easy path from the “gross-out” books to the love of reading.

There are several enemies of reading in the lives of boys. The educational system is largely feminized, and boys are often not challenged. We must remember that boys have always been boys, as the saying goes. There is nothing in the constitutional makeup of boys that is opposed to reading. Generations of boys grew to love books and lost themselves in stories, adventures, historical biographies, and the like.

The most direct enemies of reading in the lives of today’s boys are video games and digital media. These devices crowd out time and attention at the expense of reading. Spence cites one set of parents who tried to bribe their 13-year-old son to read by offering video games as a reward. Spence is exactly right — don’t reward with video games. Instead, take the games away. If parents do not restrict time spent with digital devices, boys will never learn to read and to love reading.

In another interesting section, Spence cites C. S. Lewis, who expressed agreement with both Aristotle and Plato in arguing, without apology, that boys must be trained in matters of taste. Lewis wrote: “The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful.”

That is worth savoring, especially if you have those little human animals in your house.