‘Left to Their Own Devices?’ is a really good book. I don’t say that very often!

It’s also a very sane book! My children are in their 30s. When they were young, the Internet hardly existed and a screen, such as they were, was primarily the television.

So this book is such an important title, especially for families who are struggling with their children’s time on screen.

‘Struggling’ is not the wrong word – every day appears hard, and it’s clearly a battle to stay on top of where kids may be going next on-screen. Yet the book is clear; 15 chapters and all fairly short. It’s practical and there are great cartoons throughout the text (thanks to illustrator, David McNeil).

When we meet parents on our Care for the Family events, questions concerning how to help their children navigate the world of technology leave all other topics in the shade. Many parents feel anxious and bemused.

The book aims to take struggling parents through to ‘confident’ parenting. Quite a claim, isn’t it? Even toddlers are often well ahead of parents when it comes to dealing with screens. How on earth do you stop what is happening in your family? What are the ground rules to apply?

This is a big subject, and one which will continue to concern us well into the future, I’m sure!

It struck me reading this title, that digital technology presents a remarkable aspect to our children’s lives, and yet one which can go so horribly wrong. I’m glad that I’m older, can look back as a grandparent, and not have to deal with all that our own children are trying to handle.

Above all, we should pray that God will help all parents work through some of these complicated issues.

When was the last time you heard someone speak on this subject in a church?


The Book – Chapter by Chapter

FACT – Did you know that Twitter was invented just over 10 years ago?

Chapter 1. There are three core issues: Content (what children see online), Contact (who they are talking to online) and Conduct (how they behave online). Katharine Hill points out that digital visitors, i.e. many parents, and digital residents (most of our offspring) occupy quite different areas of life.

Chapter 2 reminds us that technology can be as a lifesaver in the home. Being in touch is a great advantage. Software allows us to contact people around the world. It’s not all bad, and we should remember this.

Chapter 3 mentions ‘authoritarian’ parents where children may feel hemmed in and suffocated, ‘permissive’ parents where children have no security and then ‘assertive’ parents with a firm but fair style. Which one are you?

Chapter 4 looks at ‘too much screen time’. The big issue! A real battleground in many homes, and the source of many confrontation and rows.

From Chapter 4 onwards, there is a section, ‘What can parents do’? Katherine Hill’s advice in these areas is simply brilliant for all parents.

Chapter 5: The issue of online and off-line relationships.

Chapter 6: Everything children do is online!  The 24/7 ‘always all’ culture means that our children have no time to be ‘bored’ or even just to ‘be’.

Chapter 7: In my view, this is the best chapter in the book! Social media plays such a huge part in a child’s life today, especially for teenagers. The big question here for everyone is, ‘am I loved’?

Chapter 8. Pornography is everywhere, and easily available on smartphones. The sexualised culture today is the ‘wallpaper’ of children’s lives (Bailey Report 2011). For older teenagers: watch the YouTube video uploaded by Thames Valley police to address the issues of consenting sex: ‘Tea and consent’.

Chapter 9. Sexting – when someone sends sexually explicit texts of photos naked or semi naked. In 2014, 37% of 13 to 25-year-olds have sent naked picture of themselves via smartphone app. 49% believe sexting is harmless fun. Yet, sexting is illegal for under 18’s and what goes online, stays online.

Chapter 10. Dealing with bullying. Now there is no safe haven, not even at home. The bully can reach their prey anytime and anywhere. One in five young people in the UK have been affected by online bullying. See www.stopcyberbullying.org

Chapter 11. Grooming is an issue to strike terror into the heart of any parent. 13 to 14-year-olds represent the largest single victim group. The anonymity of digital communication means there is huge scope for the predator. Grooming also can take place via computer gaming.

Chapter 12. In Care for the Family, the top list of concerns are – (1) worries about are too much screen time and (2) Internet addiction. Children as young as four are addicted to iPads and smartphones. This addiction can be harder to kick than drugs!

Chapter 13. Consumer culture. Today’s parents have a harder job to combat pester-power than in previous generations due to the 24/7 presence of advertising to digital technology. ‘These days children are under greater pressure to grow up too quickly’ (Bailey Review 2011).

Chapter 14. All kinds of families and all kinds of issues. Single parents or blended families? Co-parenting across two families? These situations can be very challenging.

An observation. On page 131: Currently 14 million grandparents in the UK who provide childcare for their grandchildren and many more close contact with them.

‘The reassurance that they are loved simply for who they are’.

 Chapter 15. ‘Teaching them to learn to discern’.  Katharine Hill says:

We can put every protection in the universe in place, our home can be a digitally impenetrable Fort Knox with every safeguards known to man installed, but it doesn’t protect our children when they are away from home.

Our role as parents is a positive one. …we teach our children to manage their freedoms well, training them from the inside out to make wise choices in a world where all choices are possible. We do this placing values in their hearts that will be the compass for their lives.


This review was first published at www.clcbookshops.com

About the Author

Eddie Olliffe has been a bookseller and distributor for the past 35 years. He is now Consulting Editor of Together Magazine, and blogs regularly on Christian Spirituality, UK Publishing and Bookselling matters.