Our children are growing up in a world unlike any other before this time, where infinite answers can be found at their fingertips and digital entertainment is nonstop. Long gone are the days of the waving flag after a full day of TV programming or the limited supply of Atari video games that encapsulated us in the 80s. No, our children are being welcomed into a virtual world where communication is done through keystrokes and the magnitude of their existence could commence on the gadget at the end of their limbs. There are remarkable cyber opportunities just waiting to be explored, but unfortunately the real world begins to pale in comparison.
I read this post today, and it truly saddened me. The post dealt with the fairly-new reality of parenting a generation of children who have never known a world without social media, the world wide web, or handheld gaming. Our teenage children have been so plugged in to the all-encompassing digital social realm that deep conversations are becoming a thing of the past. Their relationships are based on “likes,” tweets, and brief comments, lacking the depth and understanding of true connection. Even when they’re side-by-side, their minds are worlds away as they miss the very beauty, and sometimes discomfort, of the present.
It saddens me that the author’s children could not see the significance of a beautiful lake, that they were so wrapped up in their gadgets to notice the world. It worries me that we are raising a generation of teens and kids that cannot see past their screens, that need constant digital stimulation and instant gratification, that may never be able to embrace the simple treasures of life lest they be bored. It saddens me even more that this author, along with many others I am sure, feel bound to the chains of technology so much so that they are afraid to break free.
The media can surely be a blessing, and there are some wonderful uses for it in our everyday lives. It can inspire and uplift, educate and inform. Unfortunately, it can, in many ways, also be a curse. It can rob us of precious experiences with our loved ones, steal the joy of life’s purest moments, and strip us of our ability to feel pain, which is necessary to ultimately feel hope. Technology can make us numb, slothful, apathetic, desensitized. It can be a beast that left to its own devices can infiltrate and ruin relationships, marriages, families . . . and dare I say, society.
So, yes, as a parent, I feel compelled to do something. I feel the need to not just stand by and allow our children to walk into this uncharted territory alone. It goes beyond selecting “kid-safe” sites. If we are to raise godly children who will one day fulfill their God-given purposes, we must prepare their hearts, their minds, and their use of the most precious resource they have, time. We must teach them how to navigate in a world that is much bigger than their own so that they may ultimately value what is truly important. We must teach them, but I also realize that in order to do that, I have to first teach myself. I began by reflecting on the example I wanted them to follow and sought the Word for direction. Here are the lessons we have begun to share with them.
1. Technology can be entertaining, but we must guard our minds and hearts and choose wisely.
For me: This has meant turning off a perverse and inappropriate movie and selecting wisely the next time around. My husband and I have found some wonderful movies by a company named Pure Flix that we have enjoyed as both entertaining and uplifting and have encouraged us to engage in deep conversations about the things that are most important to us. We also watch informative documentaries that are relevant to our lives.
For the children: There is so much filth and disturbing content that is passed off as “kid friendly” nowadays. The most innocent-looking of cartoons often embraces sorcery, witchcraft, rebellious behavior, and a number of other things we would never allow into our home. We understand that the battle for their souls is rampant and one that they will face outside of our home. Because of this, we value our home as a sanctuary and do what we can to strengthen them in their faith and values.
During the week, the children are only allowed to watch “learning videos.” These include Leap Frog videos, Veggie Tales, Steve Green’s Hide Em In Your Heart, and other uplifting and encouraging videos along with relevant documentaries. When it comes to computer time or the iPad, they also have learning games, such as Church Mouse Super Pak and other learning apps that they enjoy.
Once a week on Saturdays, they are allowed to watch a full-feature cartoon or family-friendly movie of their choice. If there is questionable content, we address this as a family and discuss how we might better handle the situation. If the children use inappropriate language or behavior seen on one of their videos, they are not allowed to watch it again until they refrain from the behavior for a full week. We want our children to understand that they can choose what they imitate, and it is our hope that they choose wisely.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.-Phillippians 4:8
2. We should never put technology before people.
For me: This means that I need to limit my time behind a screen, including my phone! I have to admit that when I sneak off to the virtual world during the time I should be with my children, they soon become a disturbance and annoyance to me as I try to get that last email out, read that last post, comment on that one status. When I shift my attention from them to my device, they soon vie for my attention, and unfortunately, I fight back for my “me” time. I become irritable, and my patience becomes shorter. This is not the mother I want to be to my children. This is not who I want to raise them to be.
This can also be applicable to the time I have with my husband. After a long day of work, he comes home to ride bikes with the kids, jump on the trampoline, or swing them on the swings. We have dinner and then we get the children to bed. The evenings are our only time to reconnect and talk. I choose not to put a screen before the most important person in my life.
For the children: It is important that technology be kept in its proper place. If my son is on the computer and one of us has a question or request of him, I expect him to pause the game and give us his full attention. If we have company, we stop the video and engage in conversation and hospitality. It is important that they do not hide behind their screens and ignore those that are most important to them. We do not bring phones or play video games at the table or eat dinner with the television on. Instead, we are developing healthy habits of communication and family bonding.
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. -Mark 12:31
3. When it comes to technology, we must have self-control.
For me: In order to keep my priorities in order, I try to designate certain times throughout the day for the screen. This is much easier said than done, but I know all too well how easy a quick Facebook “check” could easily strip me of 30 minutes of whatever work I have at hand. Not that this is always bad, but during a homeschool session or when we are preparing for guests, I need to be present; I need to prioritize.
The bulk of my screen time is done in the evenings once the children are in bed, the dishes are washed, the house is kept up, and my husband and I have had time to spend together. Even then, however, I do not indulge without restraint because I know all too well what this does to me the next day if I stay up too late. As adults, most of us know our limits. Children, if left to their own devices, often may not. I believe it is necessary to teach them this necessary life skill as I have seen too often what happens when an adult just “can’t” let go of his video games.
For the children: TV and screen time in our home begins at 2 years old per the recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Babies and toddlers need real-world interactions with real people. They need to touch things, experience things, play with things, etc. in order for their brains to develop appropriately during this very critical time. Putting them in front of a screen during this time may lead to a number of issues in the future, but most importantly, it strips them of the time they have to interact and bond with their loved ones. For the older kids, we set limits.
I recently began using a parenting tool called “TV Tickets“. My husband and I began with a discussion as to what we felt was a reasonable amount of time for our children to be in front of a screen for the week. Since the children are still young, we both agreed that about five hours a week was adequate, and I proceeded by creating tickets based on 15 minute increments. (Researchers estimate that American children presently engage in 5-7 hours of screen time A DAY! Read the link to see the negative effects of this practice.)
Each child gets three 15-minute TV Tickets in his/her envelope every weekday morning. (I also put in three 30-minute tickets for Saturdays.) The 15-minute tickets can be turned in daily for learning videos or computer games at the end of the day once school work, chores, and quiet time are completed. We believe it is important that they address their priorities before engaging in screen time. This is something that I do my best to adhere to, and I believe it is a good practice altogether. Screen time is usually a form of entertainment; work should come first lest we become “slothful or idle”.
If one of the children begins to “slack off” or drag through school or during chores without a good reason, I take away one ticket at a time as a consequence for not addressing his responsibilities first. Although it has never happened, if we were to get through all the daily tickets, then the Saturday 30-minute tickets are the next to go. I have found that this has helped them work through their responsibilities more readily.
Now, we do have a little fun here and there with watching special movies based on books we’ve read together or on topics we’re studying, so we’re not entirely strict on the five-hour per week “rule”. One thing I will note also is that during certain seasons, such as this first trimester, we’ve put the TV Tickets on the back burner as I have had to get in some much-needed naps here and there. And of course, there are weeks when we don’t have any screen time. We’re flexible and that’s okay. That’s life. In the future, they may get more tickets, or they may no longer need them as they exhibit personal self control. I have found that as long as we are consistent the majority of the time, the lessons are learned, and the children understand what it means to prioritize.
. . . if any would not work, neither should he eat. -2 Thessolonians 3:10
4. It’s okay to be bored.
For me: I have a hard time being still. We live in a culture that pulls us in every single direction, beckoning us to give our time, energy, and focus. I have found that even in the quiet moments, I sometimes fumble with “needing” some sort of mental stimulation, some sort of phone time to get me through the wait at the midwife’s office and sometimes even during the wait of a traffic light! Seriously, this should not be so. I really need to be okay with being still, being quiet, and letting my spirit be in peace. I need to find a better use for those “boring” moments, filling them with prayer, meditation, or just allowing my mind to rest for a few minutes to “train” it out of the constant chaos. I can also use that time to talk to those around me, tell my children stories (they LOVE stories!), read, write, or just be. Yes, it’s okay to be still, for it is when we are truly quiet that we can hear The Lord speak.
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. -Psalm 46:10
For my children: This is especially important for our little ones. We do not want them to live such busy and hurried lives that they miss the point in it all. One reason we homeschool is so that we have more time for family, friends, and things other than school and sports. We have a scheduled “quiet time” almost daily where they go to their rooms to just be alone without the TV, a screen, or electronic gadget. The first few days of implementing this were hard, but eventually they welcomed this time. They used it to draw, “read” books, color, do puzzles, construct Legos, or just rest.
I have also found that when they have nothing to do during other times of the day, it isn’t long before they find something creative to do. They make up a game, reenact a book we’ve read, build a tower out of blocks, or just go outside and explore.
I loved my childhood . . . and as an adult, I get excited about learning, about life, about projects, about being creative! I want my children to have that same excitement about the simple things as well. . . and they won’t get this from sitting in front of a screen. I want them to live meaningfully–not virtually! I want them to see God’s beauty everywhere!
Our children have just a few short years to experience the love of bubbles, tadpoles, and running barefooted through the water sprinkler.
Their imaginative play awakens in their preschool years and is gone long before middle school. Their time to be a child is so very limited, and I personally feel compelled to protect these fleeting moments, for every moment spent in front of a screen is a moment they are disengaged from life.
Their childhood is a gift and the foundation for the people they will become one day. We want them to fulfill their God-given purposes. This time that they are with us is the only time we will have to teach them who God is and what life is all about. I will make sure that it is treasured for the beautiful and amazing blessing that it surely is.
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.-Proverbs 22:6