In my post ‘How To Nurture Relationships’, I discussed the negative effects that the overabundance of ‘screen time’ can have on family relationships. I admit that I enjoy having times to myself when I can unwind and zone-out on the computer and it’s not necessarily detrimental or wrong to have times of solitude in this manner. A brief break from whatever-is-going-on-in-the-day sometimes helps me refocus and get back into the busyness of life, but yet there is a fine line when these times spent online can go from helping me to be more productive to causing me to be checked-out and sullen.
Because I’ve gotten to be more aware of my changing moods when I’m in front of a computer, I have also been able to see this change with all of my kids. A fun time of playing an online game for 30 minutes can turn into frustration and even anger if I ask them to finish before they think it’s time to get off. When we used to own a TV and had cable (about 12 years ago), we used to have the TV on all the time. I don’t know if we even cared about what was on; the TV was just a part of our home, almost like an additional member of the family.
OK, so if we agree that we need to try and limit screen time, how do we do it? We can’t simply remove every form of technology from our homes and pretend that they don’t exist. We need screens (for one thing or another), but we don’t need to be owned by them.
I am a sort of rebel by nature (please forgive me for that). I have found myself bucking ‘the system’- whatever system may be in place- more often than most people. I question things instead of just taking a professional’s word for it. I examine issues rather than following blindly along. And so I have taken this social rebelliousness of mine into the bandwagon of modern technology and asked, ‘Do I really want to be that owned by something?’ Do I want my children to be enslaved to a device or an app or a game or a TV show? No, I am going to buck the system and choose another path. Meredith Sagan, a UCLA Semel Institute psychiatrist stated “By choosing to be in charge of our own life through a cultivation of self-awareness, mindfulness and attention to our interpersonal relationships, as opposed to reliance on technology … we can more safely be in charge of the devices we are using rather than allowing them to be in charge of us.”
Once we decide to limit screen time, it’s important to remember to replace it with something equally engaging, namely, real people, or creative avenues that do not require an internet connection or a TV. I am worried that we are quickly losing our ability to even know what those creative avenues may be or that we will know how to even engage in meaningful face-to-face conversations apart from text messaging. I don’t want my lack of discipline in helping my children make wise choices lead them to look back years down the line and say to me, ‘Why did you allow me to waste so much time?’ How many hours of real life have been wasted? How many paintings were never painted, poems never created, nature trails never discovered, books never read or letters never written all because we allowed time to slip away? How many relationships wasted away because of digital selfishness?
Marriage counselor and book author Todd Creager, stated that “There is a human element to life that can be replaced by too much information and gadgets.” My prayer is that this human element to life will not fade away, but rather that a new awareness of the preciousness of human contact will be embraced. Snuggle up with your child and read a good book to them. Tell stories at bedtime. Take a surprise trip to the park to feed the ducks. Grow some veggies in a garden. Do work- hard work like painting or building something- together. Take your older child on a date and talk about their hopes for their future. Make lots of eye contact, smile at them, and don’t worry about being interrupted by any Notifications because you can choose to leave the cell phone at home. They deserve all of you.
My ‘reading assignment’: Alone, Together