My children are growing up in a completely different age than I ever could’ve imagined, when I was young. They will never know what it’s like to live without iPhones, iPads, Netflix… even computers! (Which didn’t gain in popularity until I was in *ahem* high school/ college.) Everything possible can be retrieved with our fingertips in mere seconds.
It’s no secret that this digital age has caused a crisis of sorts, when it comes to relationships. What was meant to increase communication has become a hindrance in a world that continues to spiral into communities of individualism and self-centeredness. So, just like so many parents out there who are concerned with the number of hours of ‘screentime’ their children are exposed to (See: Any recent blog post on Facebook) – I, too decided to limit the time my children played on the screen. A few months ago we set a new House Rule that there could only be 2 hrs of screentime per day. With TV, XBox, and iPads to pull their attention, this amount of time can easily slip away with just one game or app, so this restraint was a tough one for my teens.
And, just like any brand new chore chart or new way of doing things around the house, this worked well for a short time. Very short. Yes, in the beginning they balanced out which TV show they would watch, how much time they would spend on Instagram or Minecraft or making Musically videos. And I saw a difference. Yippee! They spent more time reading, doing crafty stuff, or playing with each other. Score!
Until the newness wore off. Then it became a chore for them to keep track of their minutes. On a Friday night when I’d suggest getting a movie from Redbox, they’d complain they ‘didn’t want to use their time’ on watching a movie with the family because they’d rather check on their ‘Virtual Families’. (Don’t say it. I see the irony.) When I needed time away from the grind of the everyday and asked my oldest if we could watch an episode of ‘Dr. Who’ together, she would grab her tablet and calculate how minutes she had left. (“I only have 24 minutes left. Sorry, can’t spend time with you.” Really?)
*Oops.* The very rules I’d set in place to create more family time actually had done the opposite. My children became so obsessed with keeping track of the exact number of minutes they had left that they’d fight with one another when one wanted to join together in a Minecraft game and the other wanted to ‘conserve their minutes’. What was meant to unite had begun to divide us. Ouch. I took a long moment to think on how this idea had backfired. And then God opened my eyes. This had nothing to do with rules, or expectations, or trying to ‘teach’ my children anything.
This was an issue of the heart.
No amount of restrictions were going to truly change my girls. Becoming legalistic over the amount of minutes spent on electronics wasn’t going to make my girls appreciate time away from the screen or time together as a family. (Even having them memorize scriptures on family and relationships took on a legalistic value – if they don’t desire to memorize them, it becomes a punishment. And I don’t want the Bible to ever be a punishment!) Nothing was going to make them want to spend less time on their iPads until they saw the value in it and they desired to step away.
Just like the Tin-Man from the Wizard of Oz – ya know, that guy who so desperately searched for a ‘real heart’? Only it turned out he already had one all along? Yeah. That’s just how my girls desperately search to feel fulfilled, with those little electronics of theirs. Except they haven’t made it to the Emerald City yet; they haven’t talked to the Great Oz and found out they don’t need keep searching. What they desire is right in front of them. They just haven’t figured it out yet. Relationships aren’t something attained through Facetime or Voxer.
The only thing that will truly change their hearts is when they recognize their deep desire to spend time face to face with family; friends; God.
But how will they learn this? Well, that’s the big question, isn’t it? Clearly just setting rules in place doesn’t work. So, how does one make a true heart change? I’ve been struggling with this issue for weeks now and the only thing I could think of was this:
What do they see modeled?
I know, I know. Not what you wanted to hear, right? Not what any of us adults want to hear. Because modeling good behavior means we ourselves must show our children that behavior. We need to put that iPhone down and actually talk to the person next to us. Ugh! What about Facebook? What about returning those long overdue emails? What about writing those blog posts? (Eep!) But you know I’m right. This. This is the one thing that will get through to our kids. When we model what it is to talk; when we model how to have fun outside of something on a screen; when we model what it is to have relationship.
A friend of mine quoted something she’d read in a blog post recently, and I think it sums things up nicely: Don’t ever pick that iPhone up when there is opportunity for conversation. Meaning: If there is any chance you could strike up conversation at the park while your kids play, don’t bother with that text that can wait until later. If you are sitting in a restaurant, your emails can certainly wait until you’re done eating. If there is another living, breathing person in the room, don’t dare pick that thing up and check to see who Snapchatted you. This is the only way our children will learn to put down their electronics and talk to one another.
This issue is still not resolved in my family. It’s a daily struggle that I long for my kids to understand and apply in their lives. But it’s a start. Putting my phone down and looking up into their faces is a first step that will hopefully model the behavior they need to have in order to have healthy relationships in the future.
What about you? Is this an issue in your family? What things do you see that can change the heart when it comes to this issue? Feel free to leave a comment below!
Happy reading, friends!