Parenting as Gardening
Summarizing the work of psychologist, Alison Gopnick, writer and philosopher, Michael Sacasas, makes a distinction between two approaches to parenting.
One approach is the “Carpenter Model,” which I prefer to think of a “Factory Model” of parenting. He writes:
Parents tend to view raising children as an engineering problem in which the trick is to apply the right techniques in order to achieve the optimal results. In this view, ‘parenting’ is something you do. It is work. And the point of the work is to manufacture a child to certain specifications as if the child herself were simply a bit of raw, unformed material. (L.M. Sacasas, Care, Not Control)
This model of parenting views raising children like putting together a piece of IKEA furniture. Simply follow these simple (or so they say) instructions of a piece of furniture that you like, and your children will look just like whatever model you picked out.
The contrasting approach to parenting is the “Gardener Model.” He writes:
Parents do not conceive of their children as a lump of clay to be fashioned at will. The focus isn’t on “parenting” as an activity, but on being a parent as a relationship structured by love. While the carpenter by their skill achieves a level of mastery and control over the materials, the gardener recognizes that they cannot ultimately control what the seed will become, that much is given. They can only provide the conditions that will be most conducive to a plant’s flourishing.
With these two approaches to parenting underpinning his writing, Sacasas’ critiques the “Carpenter Model” of parenting because it sets forth an idea that there is “one-right way” to parent.
He writes elsewhere:
Parents have enough to worry about without also accepting the anxieties that stem from the assumption that we can perfectly control who our children will become by the proper application of various techniques. (L.M. Sacasas, Children and Technology)
When it comes to the topic of kids and technology, the deep irony is that there is a way that we can completely reject technology for our children, yet act in a technocratic way, by saying that an outright rejection is “the one-right-way.”
When discussing kids and technology, what parents do not need is a bunch of “hacks” (hear “techniques”). Hacks and techniques for navigating parenting your kids and their technology use will become obsolete as quickly as last year’s iPhone model. You don’t need hack and techniques; you need a philosophy to guide how you parent your children and their technology use.
If hacks and techniques don’t last long, why do we go searching for them?
Frankly, because it’s easy. And it helps us to feel some semblance of control in the quite uncontrollable realm of parenting.
In his book, Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport talks about how this idea of having a few hacks is nice because it keeps us from having to make hard decisions about our or our kids’ digital lives.
What you need is a full-fledged philosophy of technology use, rooted in your deep values, that provides clear answers to the questions of what tools you should use and how you should use them and, equally important, enables you to confidently ignore everything else. (Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism)
The most important thing that you can do to help you navigate the complexities parenting your children through technology use is not to develop a tool belt of hacks and techniques, but rather to have an intentional philosophy of how your family will engage with technology. It is only by approaching technology with intentionality that we can keep our technological tools in their proper place, and use them in ways that support our cultivation of our children towards becoming more like Christ in every way.
What is technology?
But, first things, first: what is technology?
For most folks, the word technology only covers devices with screens, or equipment that transfers bit and bytes, but technology-proper is much, much more broad than electric gadgets and gizmos.
Technology properly defined is anything that is used by a human to extend our abilities beyond our human limitations. To put it more succinctly, technology is any extension of humanity.
In his work, The Life We’re Looking For, Andy Crouch asserts that all technology is borne on the wings of two promises: “Now you’ll be able to” and “Now you’ll no longer have to.”
The microwave, for instance, flies on the wings of two promises: now you’ll be able to eat popcorn in less than four minutes, and now you’ll no longer have to wait for the water to boil, your Mac ’n cheese will be done in two minutes.
What Does God Think About Technology?
Moses didn’t use his Tablet to type out the Ten Commandments, David didn’t use Garage Band to cut his latest Psalm tracks, Paul didn’t use email to correspond with the many churches he planted. But with our proper definition of technology, one that’s more than just devices that carry electrical currents to light up an array of pixels, we can see that technology (or tools) is used all throughout Scripture.
Cain built a city (Genesis 4:17). Tubal-Cain made things out of bronze and iron (Genesis 4:22). Noah built an ark (Gen 6). People built the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9). God gave his Spirit in Exodus to allow make some better craftsmen (Exodus 31). King Solomon built a temple (1 Kings 6). Jesus used tools as a carpenter. Paul used letters to advance the good news of Jesus around the globe.
This is just a small sample of technology in Scripture. But broadly speaking, it seems like God doe not care if we use technology, but how we use technology. He doesn’t care if we use a tool, but cares how we relate to a tool.
For God, it seems to boil down to whether or not our ultimate trust and dependence is placed in a technology (or tool), or placed in Him.
Look at Psalm 33:
13 The Lord looks down from heaven;
he observes everyone.
14 He gazes on all the inhabitants of the earth
from his dwelling place.
15 He forms the hearts of them all;
he considers all their works.
16 A king is not saved by a large army;
a warrior will not be rescued by great strength.
17 The horse is a false hope for safety;
it provides no escape by its great power.
18 But look, the Lord keeps his eye on those who fear him—
those who depend on his faithful love…
Two technologies here—a king’s army and a warrior’s horse—are shown to be of no hope of protection. Why? Because God is the ultimate protector; God is our help and our shield, provided we fear him and depend on his faithful love.
Where are we going?
Through this series of posts, we’ll start broadly and consider some key principles that will help us understand technology generally speaking. These principles will hopefully be transferrable in the sense that they might inform how we think about anything from TikTok, to Roblox, to the Metaverse.
After orienting ourselves around some broad principles, we’ll cover some habits or rules (think more along the idea of “guidelines”) that could be implemented in your household. As with the principles, these habits are hopefully transferrable enough that they will last through the next Google I/O.