I recently had an interesting experience at the dentist with my girls. The office we visit is specifically geared toward kids, so their waiting room is really fun—with TVs, iPads, toys, and games. We arrived a few minutes early, so the girls made their way to the iPads and began playing with a coloring app. Fun, engaging, and interactive play. All was right in the world.
But then one of the dental assistants realized that the TV was off and boldly declared, “You guys need a movie!” To which Zoe politely responded, “I think we’re okay.” I was so proud! They had turned down watching a movie in lieu of continuing to color. But instead of listening to Zoe’s request, the worker chose to just turn on the movie anyway (in case they changed their mind, I assume).
And I just knew what was going to happen. I knew the TV would soon distract the girls from their positive, artistic, engaging activity. And sure enough, within minutes the girls had turned in their chairs and were glued to the TV screen. I asked Zoe if she wanted to keep coloring and she lamented that the movie was distracting.
The solution was easy—simply asking the workers to turn off the movie—but I found myself thinking about, and disappointed in, the addictive power of the screen in our culture. We are parked in front of screens all day, every day—from phones to computers to TVs—and we don’t even realize how addictive these glass idols have become. And I’m not meaning to be critical of this dental assistant, because I’m just as addicted to screens myself, but you know there’s a societal problem with screen addiction when a 6-year-old tells you she’s okay without a movie playing and you turn it on anyway, because…you know…“you’re a kid…and what kid doesn’t want to watch a movie?!”
Now I’m aware of the ironies in this story—that the girls were coloring on an iPad, that I’m typing this article on a computer, and that you are reading this article on some sort of screen—but the inevitable prevalence of screens in our society simply means we need to be wise about how we utilize these technologies. We must be aware of what our screens are doing to us, our brains, our families, and our faith. And we must be willing to make sacrifices in our lives that will help us limit the all-consuming power of the screen.
For example, Mandy and I have recently decided to rid our main living space of our TV and replace it with a piano. We’ll still have TVs in our home and will still watch our fair-share of mindless television, but our hope is that removing that screen from our main communal space will help us make wiser and more intentional decisions about when and how often we watch TV.
So, how are the screens in your life being used or abused? Are there any unhealthy practices or rhythms in your life around screen time that need to be remedied? And will you have the courage to make those changes for the sake of yourself, your family, and your faith?