Parenting in the Digital Age.
“The art of leadership is not saying yes; it is saying no,” said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. One of life’s great challenges is learning to not just go with the flow because sometimes the flow goes in the wrong direction. We live in a day of great distraction. Because of the digital age, information flows constantly. Some say we have become the society that is looking down — always checking our phones, tablets, and devices.
I’ve heard the average home in America keeps the television on seven hours a day with the average viewer watching between 20 and 36 hours a week. Many families can’t sit through a meal without everyone checking their phones. Some couples take their tablets to bed, unable to endure the detachment.
The World Future Society predicted, “In the years ahead, we will live increasingly in fictions: We will turn on our virtual-reality systems and lie back, experiencing heavenly pleasures of sight and sound in a snug electronic nest. The real world will almost be totally blotted out from our experience.”
Instead of encouraging intellectual or spiritual stimulation, we are conditioned to choose the instant gratification of the Internet. How can we parents create space in our families to raise healthy children? Here are several suggestions for ways to say no to the constant lure of the digital world.
PLAY GAMES TOGETHER. Make a collection of board games. Develop the habit of occasionally clearing the table for game night. As children get older, invest in games that take longer to play. Our family enjoys A Ticket to Ridge, Shadows of Camelot, and 221b Baker Street. Playing board games allows for lots of interaction and often leads to laughter!
MAKE READING A PRIORITY. Build the expectation into your family that everyone should be readers. Provide age-appropriate material for your children. The local library is a wonderful resource that can be used again and again. There is a time to say, “OK, we’ve watched enough television, and you’ve spent enough time on electronics. Why don’t you spend some time reading?” Read books together. My daughter and I read the entire Little House on the Prairie series. When our son, Dawson, was a “tweenager,” we read a mystery series by Jerry Jenkins called Red Rock Mysteries. He loved it and expressed disappointment when we missed a night.
TALK AND LISTEN. It amazes me to see families sit down in restaurants, take out all their devices, and never talk to each other until the food comes. Make family meal time a time of conversation. Declare meals a “no-electronics zone.” Linger at the table as much as possible. Ask questions of your children and listen. Henry Blackaby said that because he wanted to have a meaningful relationship with his children when they became adults, he knew that meant he needed to have lots of conversations about superheroes when they were young children.
MONITOR DIGITAL TIME. Dr. Archibald Hart and his daughter, Sylvia, wrote a helpful book called The Digital Invasion: How Technology is Shaping You and Your Relationships. In it they explore the clinical effects of the digital age and offer solutions to guard your mind, body, and spirit. Digital technology has become controlling, addictive, and intrusive. The Harts write, “Digital technology has a good side. It also has a dark side. Increasing digital overuse is already harming parts of our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual health.”
Parents, it’s OK for you to be the “bad guy” about the use of electronics. Don’t let culture squeeze you into its form. Our children don’t need endless hours of Internet and television exposure. Scientific studies show that too much digital time actually alters our brain patterns. For our family, screen time isn’t allowed during the week unless all school work is complete. On the weekends, our children may have up to two hours of screen time a day.
GO OUTSIDE. God created us to interact with His natural world. Lead your children to enjoy the outdoors and engage in physical exercise outside of the walls of your house. Children still need time to play in the dirt, walk in the woods, and expand their own imaginations.
Dr. Rhett Wilson, Sr., is a freelance writer, editor, ghostwriter, copywriter, and pastor. He and his family live in Lancaster, South Carolina. Check out his site at rhettwilson.org.