Searching – A discussion guide on the challenges of teens and the internet

‘The internet has been a boon and a curse for teenagers’. J. K. Rowling 

In a world of cyberbullying and identity theft, film audiences do not have to dig too deep to find movies that depict the evils that occur online. In the past few years, films like Nerve and The Duff are examples that show the potential threats that exist with each keystroke, which can be particularly unnerving for parents of teens. 

These films could lead many to think that the answer to the problem presented by our modern online existence is to limit the amount of screentime of children. This is a noble thing to aspire to as families, but in a world where schools and workplaces are increasingly dependent on screens, limiting screen time may not be the only answer to the difficulties of the internet experienced by families.

In the recent Sony Pictures release, Searching, writer/director Aneesh Chaganty manages to challenge the assumption that all things on our computers are evil. This immersive film deals with a father’s search for his missing teenage daughter. The writers provide a neutral position on computer usage and point to a key solution to the cyber-divide between parents and teenagers. The timely message can be found in amongst a compelling mystery and unwittingly becomes a must-see choice for parents looking for answers as they navigate through the lives of their family as they work through how to live with technology, not despite it.

For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. – 1 Timothy 6:10a

One thing that needs to be addressed theologically is the morality of the internet. Like money, the internet and social media are amoral elements that can be used for good or evil. People can rail against the evils of these web-based items that have infiltrated modern life, but the root problem is not the tools themselves, but the users. 

The warnings do not need to be about these tools as much as in how they are used. Society has to come to terms with the fact that no-one is indeed anonymous in the world. Every keystroke and swipe has its consequences and there is accountability for each action, either in this life or in the next. The message that needs to be communicated is that the evil seen on the internet comes from within the hearts of those using it. To deal with the problem, people need to turn their phones, computers and cameras on themselves and do some reflection.

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6

Searching seems to be a parental warning against the various places their children can get in trouble online, but what the production team does with the script is that for every destructive element in each Google search there is an equally positive aspect to the internet. Even though David Kim’s (John Cho) daughter does make some poor online choices in her life after her mother passes away, the clues to her disappearance are also found through an effective cyber-investigation. The screenplay manages to prove the amorality to computers, smartphones and the world wide web. Which begs the question, what is the solution for parents of teens concerning online usage? 

The answer is found in the wisdom of the Bible and not only applies to the internet, but answers the question of how parents can genuinely connect with their children. The secret can be found in a simple and straight-forward solution: to be an involved and loving parent who is willing to be there for their child as they travel through this awkward stage in life.

For the parents who are living through it or have a recent memory of the experience, this is easier said than done. The blueprint for parents is to read the Bible daily, apply it to their lives, pray for their children and then engage with genuine and loving interest with their children. Depending on the relationship the parent has with their child, this attention may not be well received at first. Despite some initial pushback, most children do warm to the interaction and input from parents who genuinely care. Who knows until it is tried, this may lead to positive long-term results. 

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. – Colossians  3:14

One blessing of watching a family working through the challenges of this stage in life on a big or little screen is that it may provide the memories of what life was like as a teen. Every generation experiences different stresses and challenges, but one thing that has been the salve that heals the wounds suffered by children throughout the ages is the love of God and the earthly love of their parents. 

Searching may not mention God, but this film provides a surprising challenge for all of us who are raising teens. Despite this potentially difficult season of life, the simple step of ‘being there’ for your teen is a great start to getting closer to them and then allowing for your words of advice to fall on receptive ears. Who knows you might build a new relationship with this stranger that has grown up before your eyes. Enjoy the adventure! 

Passages on where evil truly resides and where to find the solution:  

Where evil truly resides – Genesis 3:1-24, Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 51:5, Mark 7:21, Romans 3:10-18, James 1:13-15 

Where to find the solution – John 3:16-17, Romans 2:6-8, 1 John 3:1-24

Trailer for the film

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.