Simcha Fisher, author of The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning writes for several publications and blogs daily at Aleteia. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and ten children. Without supernatural aid, she would hardly be a human being.
Last month, a Pew study showed that teens consider Facebook and other social media outlets more of a "social burden" then a pleasant and interesting way to spend time. One girl said, “Honestly, Facebook at this point, I'm on it constantly but I hate it so much." The kids in the focus group gave several reasons for migrating away from Facebook and Twitter: too much pressure to appear cooler or more wholesome than they actually are; too much drama; too much work. I think there must also be some of what the senior tempter Screwtape describes when teaching Wormwood how to bring a man to Hell:
You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do.You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but also in conversations with those he cares nothing about, on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say…’I now see that I spent most my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.’”
Facebook and Twitter are useful and pleasant to me . . . up to a point. But I certainly understand the insane post-modern dilemma of "I'm on it constantly, but I hate it so much." Or, as Screwtape describes it:
An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula ...To get the man's soul and give him nothing in return--that is what really gladdens Our Father's heart.
The same could be said for just about all forms of electronic entertainment, including movies and TV shows, video games, and all kinds of online diversions. Have you ever felt that sense of freedom and release when you snap a screen off? Or have you ever felt bereft and anxious when you snap a screen off, and that feeling worries you? Then you know what I'm talking about.
I'm not going to "kill my TV," as the bumper sticker suggests, and I'm not going to quit screen time cold turkey. I don't even think that would even automatically solve the problem: I recently heard about a fellow who gave up the internet for a year, and he reports that his bad habits were very adaptable. When he stopped wasting time online, he just started wasting it other ways.
But I also know that something has to be done! We can fool ourselves that lots of screen time is no big deal, but we all know that it is.
Our summer vacation begins next week, and I'm making some plans to get us back on a better track. We're not going to go screen-free, but we're going to make it more useful and pleasant, and less of a tyrant that demands everything and repays nothing.
Screen Free Days. During Lent, we had screen-free Fridays as a family penance. Half the time, we ended up playing board games or reading books out loud in the time that we would have normally spent on Mario Kart or Lego Batman. This was much too much fun to be penance, but it was certainly good for the family. So this summer, we'll be having two screen-free days per week, with no guilt over replacing that time with sheer recreation. I think the kids will balk at first, but they will be secretly (or even openly) relieved.
Screen time comes last, or has to be earned. Say, you can only turn on the TV once you have been outside for an hour, or once you have spent half an hour reading. Some parents trade extra chores or projects for screen time: washt the windows and win an extra twenty minutes, etc. This gets tricky when you have lots of different kids on different schedules, but it can be enforced just like any other rule, especially if you can trust your kids to be honest, or if you have at least one policeman-type kid!
Movies and shows are a family event. We're stocking the Netflix queue with movies the kids wouldn't choose on their own, but which they really ought to see, and will probably even enjoy. This kind of thing is why I won't "kill my TV": enjoying a powerful or hilarious movie or TV series together is a legitimate and substantial pleasure. Ditto for the video game tournaments my husband has with the kids. I don't get it, but I can see that they're really having fun and enjoying being together.
Screens are the servants, and the parent is the sovereign. If I decide that I'm sick and tired of hearing the noises coming from the speaker or seeing that glassy-eyed gaze, then I can just pull the plug without apologies or explanations. I make the rules, and I can change them if they're no longer functioning as intended.
Hardest of all? Model better behavior. If all I do is resolve to do better, I simply don't regulate my screen time. I need to make it official. I'm not going make a sacrerd vow always to honor family over Facebook from this day forward. But I do make small promises: "Okay, the computer gets turned off at noon today" or "Just email today, no Facebook or other nonsense." It makes a difference.
What about you? How do you tame the screen time beast?