After just a few weeks in Ms. Escobar’s Spanish I class, I learned two things: 1. I am terrible at pronouncing Spanish words and 2. The Latin@ culture is pretty cool. What I really liked about the Latin@ culture was not the colorful history or the delicious food, but the culture’s continuous emphasis on the importance of family and “gathering.” Although my family does not hail from a Latin@ heritage, “gathering” around the table, to connect with each other, is at the core of who we are; so much so that I was scandalized when I discovered that not all families shared a nightly family meal. This revelation came by the way of Ms. Escobar polling the class to see how many of us still shared a meal with our families on a nightly basis – I was the only one who could truthfully say that my family broke bread together at the table at least five times a week. That was twenty years ago – that was before the age of social media.
Fast forward twenty years and here we are. American families are more disconnected than ever before. Go to any restaurant, places that used to be where people gathered to connect with each other over a good meal, and it won’t take you long to see table after table filled with families on their smartphones more engaged with the digital world than with each other. How did we get here? And now that we are here, what are we to do? What should “parenting” look like in the digital age? These questions are at the heart of what Kirk Cameron seeks to answer in his new film, Connect.
I will be honest, as someone who wrote a dissertation on digital discipleship (approached through the issue of cyberbullying) I was quite skeptical that I would learn anything new from Connect. What could there possibly be more to say about parenting in the digital world that I did not already know? And then God laughed and said, “A lot.”
The film opens with Cameron taking the audience on a journey (literally – he spends most of the film riding in his Jeep around sunny CA) openly exploring, like so many parents do, how to empower ourselves in helping our kids live healthy digital lives. No topic is left off the table: cyberbullying, false identities, child predators, and pornography are all explored through the eyes of young adults and parents who had “been there” and “came out on the other side” quite all right. Even so, after hearing the dangerous territory our young people encounter through social media and the wider digital world, my first gut reaction was to run home and dump everything. Fortunately, Cameron reassured his audience that is not what we should be doing – technology is here to stay – so we need to equip our kids with “good hearts” so when they encounter “evil” they know what to do.
On the journey, Cameron stops in and speaks with a variety of experts who bring “home” the importance of using God’s wisdom in forming our teens to be good digital disciples – their expertise and insight move forward practical ways all parents can take back control of their family’s digital lives and find points of reconnection. The greatest point of the film, in my opinion, however, is Cameron’s inclusion of “good vs. evil” – the spiritual battle we all encounter when we log in. This is an important point that should be fleshed out more in our Churches – it is not just that our young people need to be nice to each other on social media and turn it off now and again to speak to each other in person. No, what is more important is that we are called by God to equip them to battle the evil that lies in the disconnected world – that is where our focus should be.
Because I want you to see it, I will end my review here so as not to give too much more away, but I want to note just one flaw – I think that the film could go deeper. I would like to see Cameron come back to the idea of “connection” and explore the dignity of persons as well as explore how social media has played a negative role in the ever-rising anxious lives of our young people. And it would be good for Cameron to also go back and explore this deep desire that young people have to be told that “you are enough” and their desire to connect with God – something that all of the young people in this film expressed. There are greater themes at play that I hope are further explored in the future and I think Cameron is just the guy to do it as his appeal is far reaching and he certainly seems to be a parent/lay minister who “gets it.”