This is a part of a series of thoughts for my next book, Slow Schooling…And Other Thoughts on Rescuing Childhood
Many people when confronted with the risks of overdosing on screen time defend their activities by stating something like how they spend their time doesn’t hurt anyone else. Of course, this is untrue. As an example, any father that spends hours upon hours video gaming hurts his family and undermines any faith he professes to have.
But as a culture we have cultivated this notion of individualism and the freedom to do what feels right and seems good in our own eyes. Therefore, pornography doesn’t hurt anyone…except that it does. It hurts everyone: men, women, and children. It drives the sexual trafficking industry and the kidnapping and slavery of children worldwide. It lies about how good it is for men (and women) to be alone, and fosters a society in which we do not treat others with respect and care, recognizing them as God’s image bearers.
What does that have to do with children and screen time? Unfortunately, a lot. There are many people who have financially vested interests in introducing your children to this dark world as soon as possible, and as much as possible. Therefore, a simple Google search for a childhood cartoon coloring page may end up with a pop-up of someone in a grotesque, shocking, and rude position. Even simple research into world events cannot avoid the most base click baits all lined up in a row on the sidebars. The more time our children spend on a screen, the more likely they are going to fall into pornography. The average age of inital exposure continues to plumment; it is now reported to be eight. This doesn’t even take into account relatives introducing the young children in their lives to pornography on purpose.
So how are we supposed to protect our children from the risks and dangers of too much screen time, and yet provide for them the training and time to learn how to use those important tools? I think it would be a mistake to avoid internet and computer use completely. All that would accomplish is to stoke a hot curiosity that any peer (or grandparent) would be all too willing to feed.
The reality is that children, especially very young children, do not need any screen time at all. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics, whom many parents look to for mentoring, advises NO screen time for children younger than two years old. They advised a whopping total of two hours for older children. Two hours. That means TV, texting, video games, internet and i-whatever. If it sounds impossible it is only because we have let it become so.
In fact, most of the time we allow the “plug-in drug” because it is easier to administer an overdose than plan and prepare for creative play, diligent work, or character-building discipline. Too many parents are in a hurry to grow their children up, or to keep them out-of-the-way. Screens are a popular substitute for parenting, but they are a poor substitute–a complete failure, in fact–for a good relationship.
This is an area where, once again, leading is crucial. If a parent cannot disentangle themselves from media for any time at all, then neither will the child. It will become a very necessary and leachlike appendage.
Setting ground rules is helpful for the whole family. Some ideas would include:
- one family computer to share, in public
- zero internet service in bedrooms
- internet use “hours”
- frequent media fasts
- cell phones are off once you’re home…or at least not at the supper table
- regular checking in on usage
- home filtering devices and monitoring systems, such as Circle
Although ground rules for screen time are useful and needed, it is most important that our children understand WHY they are there. Teach them about its addictive properties, the dark dangers of pornography, and its risks of spiritual and phyisical health problems. Share your heart about why you are setting limits, both for yourself and your family. If they (and you) have a heart for learning about and wanting to follow God, verses such as Psalms 101:3 (I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me) are invaluable.
We can also provide plenty of learning experiences and opportunities to gain skills and flex their creative and intellectual muscles. When fostering good relationships is rewarding, when praise comes forth due to an excellent meal prepared or even a four foot tall Lego creation, playing the current day equivalent of Pong loses its luster because at the end of the game, there is nothing to show for it. Nothing was accomplished.
Also, it is not negligent nor unkind to withhold cell phones or the nightly newscast. Despite the incessant call of culture to expose children at even earlier ages to acts of violence, profanity, idolatry and immorality, we can cut the cable, forgo the newest Screen, and take our kids hiking or to the library for books instead. Their spirits, brains, hearts, and health will be stronger for it. And so will yours.