Discipleship in the Digital Age: Helping our Family and Kids Navigate Screen Time

Posted by | September 17, 2018 | Blog | No Comments

By Nick Clifton, KPA Director of Student Development

It was during the early morning hours of March 20, 2014 that I realized my life had changed forever. On that morning, my first child, my daughter, entered into this world and stole my heart. On that morning, I realized that I was now undertaking the most difficult, terrifying, and rewarding journey I would ever take – the journey of receiving a child as a precious gift from God with Him expecting that we love and disciple this beautiful soul in a way that would allow heaven to come that much closer to earth through her. What a blessing!

Unfortunately, I quickly realized that our culture and society has placed an incredible obstacle in front of us as families that quite often places itself right in the middle of the that road of discipleship that we are traveling on. This obstacle, as you might have guessed from the title, is the screen. Where a fireplace and hearth was once the gathering place of fellowship, family, and discussion for the family unit has now been replaced by the TV, laptop, iPad, smartphone, or really any other item that can place media and entertainment at our fingertips.

To add a little perspective, the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that:

  • Kids under age 6 watch an average of about 2 hours of screen media a day, primarily TV and videos or DVDs.
  • Kids and teens 8 to 18 years spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of a TV screen almost 3 additional hours on the computer (outside of schoolwork) and playing video games.
  • Counting all media outlets, 8 – 18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day.

Many parents will tell you there is something about a screen that acts almost as a digital pacifier for children – turn on a screen and they turn into zombies. I will never forget the day I witnessed this very event in my own house. I came home from work to my wife playing with blocks with our oldest daughter in the living room, and turned on the TV to watch the news. The second the screen came on, my daughter was completely torn away from her mother’s play and turned to the bright colors and interesting sounds coming out of our TV. I watched as her eyes glazed over and the mesmerizing hold of the screen took control. It was then I understood the temptation that faces so many of us as parents to place our children in front of a screen – it can give us some much needed quiet time! Unfortunately, the payment for this digital babysitter is far too steep and, frankly, just not worth it in the end.

Now I’m not saying that we should throw out all digital devices and only read books 24/7. I am also one who believes that the use of media in intentional and purposeful ways can be beneficial. My wife and I have certainly resorted to the Disney movies on the iPad for many a 9 hour road trip to Houston (you know the moment – the last two hours of the trip where everyone is just bored and tired of being in the car). However, the purpose of this blog is to caution us as parents to remain intentional and to never sacrifice shared experiences and the joys of parenting to a screen.

I think most people would agree that our culture has given too much power to screen time, but I find that many people are just unaware or unsure of where to start to change what might be a long-running habit of media usage in their household. So here are some tips and ideas that we use in our house with our family to be as intentional and minimalistic as possible concerning screen time with our children.

1. Set the example.

I have to start with the toughest one (especially for me), because there is no other place to begin this conversation. Children will naturally gravitate toward the behaviors of their parents. They are always watching and learning, even when we do not think so. If they see us reading a book, they are more likely to read. If they see us desiring to be active outside, they are more likely to do the same. And if they see us in front of a screen, they will want to do the same.

2. Be the parent.

It is our job to encourage healthy, responsible living habits and behaviors while also limiting unhealthy ones. Sometimes, this means making the unpopular decision. Be willing to make the tough decisions for your children, but always make sure you explain why you are making that decision. The follow up conversation (combined with watching your example) will help them understand why they should follow through and hopefully internalize the need to make that decision for themselves.

3. Set limited viewing times.

Again, I am not saying that we live like the Amish, but as with anything in life, we must consume in moderation. Sit down as a family and decide what time frames for media usage work best for your family.

4. Play with your kids.

This may sound like an obvious one, but sometimes this is the easiest one to neglect. We are a busied and hurried people these days, and this step will certainly take intentionality and pulling from the bottom of your energy barrel some days, but I promise you will be glad you did. So get down on the ground with your little ones, play board games, ride bikes together, wrestle, whatever your kids are doing for play at their stage of life, join them in that play.

5. Observe your child’s behavioral changes.

Too much screen time has an immediate impact on a child’s behavior. After too much television/video games, a child can become irritable, impatient, or lethargic. Be on the lookout for these behavior changes. When you start to notice them, cut off the screen time and redirect to a different activity.

6. Protect family meals and table time.

About two-thirds of young people say the TV is usually on during meals. This is unfortunate, because some of your family’s richest conversations will take place around that dinner table. Value and protect that time with your children! Don’t let the TV (or any screen) steal that from you.

7. No screens in the bedrooms.

This is one that our family is still working on, but we are looking to the example of some parenting mentors of ours that have implemented this with their family for many years now. When it is time for bed, all family members charge their phones in the kitchen. As unpopular as this decision is with their teen at times, they hold true to their belief that they are protecting their child and themselves from unnecessary distractions and temptations. While we are currently not parenting teens, we know that we want to form the habit for ourselves now in order to set the example for our children when they do enter those teenage years.

Limiting our screen time can seem like a daunting and unpopular task in today’s culture, and with a teen it can often feel like more of a battle than a blessing. But it is worth fighting. I can say from personal experience that this is an endeavor that becomes easier with each step. The more we watch, the more we want to continue. But the inverse is also true. The more we turn off the screen, the easier it becomes to keep it off. I pray these tips can be a blessing for you and your family, and I challenge us all to go against the grain of an increasingly screen-addicted culture.

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