Fighting for Beauty in a Screen-filled World

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Do you ever have repeated arguments— ahem— spirited conversations in your home about particular issues? For us, it’s about the tension of living in this unprecedented era of technology. Of course, neither Glenn nor I grew up with screens everywhere, so we aren’t exactly sure how to navigate this well with our family.

For me, turning on the TV is the last thing to do in order to relax; for Glenn, it’s often the first. (I get it: he spends a lot of time reading, writing, thinking, etc, while I can’t wait to get time to do any of the above!) As we have talked about this issue over the years, we have tried several solutions— from moving the TV to the basement, to my threatening to smash the TV! I know kind of primal, right? Even though I wouldn’t have followed through, too much TV or screen time of any kind drive me nuts.

Despite my strong feelings and not-so-nice empty threats, Glenn has challenged me by asking, “What is really going on under the surface? Is this really about the TV?”  Is it that I just have a disdain for screens? Don’t I see all the value and contributions they have brought to the world and to my life?

Worse still, am I not caught up in this in some way myself? When my three year old says, “MOM, will you put DOWN your phone?” When I obsessively read reviews on an educational curriculum, I realize I too am ‘numbered among the transgressors’. It’s easy to blame Glenn or get upset with him for spending too much time on screens or allowing our children to watch them when I’m implicated in it too.

After searching my heart on this issue, I realize it’s really not about what I’m fighting against; it’s what I’m fighting for. I’m not out to sabotage a family movie night, nor am I discounting the value of online education.

I’m fighting for beauty.

I believe God created a magnificent world for us to see Him in. 

I believe He created beautiful wildflowers like bright orange paintbrushes and purple bellflowers so we can see His goodness. 

I believe He created us for relationship with others— to know others and be truly known by them. 

I believe He gave us His Word so we may know Him and glorify Him. 

I believe He gave us great works of literature so we can see His beauty, truth, and goodness.

My desires for my family are fixed on these ideals, and I don’t know how to accomplish them if we spend much of our life in front of screens.

Summer is upon us and sometimes this can be the hardest season to resist screen time. I feel it too. I want to get work projects done in the house like cleaning out the garage or deep cleaning my shower (fun!) or spend an extended amount of time planning a portion of our summer. Or lets be honest, ignoring everyone and reading a work of fiction for hours. It’s so easy to turn the TV on or to hand them an iPad (for ‘educational games’, of course!) to keep the little ones occupied or to keep the big ones from asking me questions.

This can also be a great time to start afresh with a new plan. We’ve had all sorts of plans and charts over the years. But the one, we seem to come back to is what we call, 2 hours of TV credits/screen time a week. Its simple.

  • Each child gets 2 hours of parent-approved TV or iPad time a week. (I’m not the grinch, so occasionally we give exceptions.)
  • During the school year, this means no screens during the week because they have more free time to watch on the weekend.

This summer, Glenn receives a sabbatical from his pastoral position and church responsibilities. We are incredibly grateful for this opportunity to rest, be renewed, and delight in recreation with our family. In light of pursuing sabbath rest for him and I, it will be a great challenge not to put our kids in front of screens. We’ll head out on a road trip for part of the time, so we’ll probably watch a bit more, but not until they’ve listened to hours and hours of audiobooks in the car first.

Instead, they can use their imaginations. I had the great privilege of having to use mine as a child. Why should I deprive my child of the same opportunity? They may not see it as such, but we know better.

My brilliant psychologist sister-in-law Tracy Alloway said to me when my first child was very little, “Holly, almost anything she can do is better for her than watching TV.” (She wrote more about this for Psychology Today HERE.)

Time in front of screens may not be harmful; but it takes up the space for doing other things which are far more beneficial…and beautiful! They can go outside, read a good book, build legos, kick a ball around (as Jonas does endlessly!), serve a family member (as they do reluctantly), or…create a nature camp or ballet class for their siblings (as Sophia and Norah are fond of doing for the younger two).

God is calling us to hear, see, and taste His goodness in His world. There are many challenges, and we are sure to stumble in implementing any plan. It’s a struggle, but one worth engaging in.

So…let’s fight for beauty in our homes this summer!

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