“Put the screens away!”
If you were a fly on the wall in my family, you would hear that sentence, again and again. And it only gets worse in the summer. Because of the lack of a school routine, boredom turns to binge-watching.
I feel like a class-A hypocrite writing an article on this topic, but we’re not the only ones struggling to get a handle on it, either. Over and over it comes up in counseling sessions, phone calls, messages, and discrete conversations in the halls of the church. What does it mean to rightly parent a child of the “on-demand” generation?
Do we have to choose between the luddite lifestyle of banning technology altogether, or is there a way to make “screen use” a shepherding opportunity?
The New Neighborhood
Everyone remembers the constant cries of “I’m bored!” It’s as much a part of summer as lemonade, barbeques, and beach trips. In times past, however, there were social systems that worked to help alleviate boredom. They were called your neighbors.
Neighborhoods were alive with children playing pick-up basketball, or riding their bikes, or doing anything they could to fight the specter of boredom together. It wasn’t a perfect system by any means, but it brought kids of various ages and abilities together to battle a common enemy.
These days, it seems impromptu play in neighborhoods has all but disappeared. The result is that a child’s entertainment and play needs — and yes these are needs for a child — fall to the parent rather than being distributed across a neighborhood of resources.
Eventually, parents get burnt out or their paychecks run out, so part of the easy solution is to park the child in front of a screen. Instantly, children are both contained and entertained. It’s almost too easy. And our hearts loves easy.
Our Appetite for Easy Pleasure
Whatever the sociological causes for increased media time, there’s always a heart issue at play. Between chapters 6–26, Proverbs addresses the “sluggard” fourteen times. In fact, laziness is one of the primary foils in the wisdom literature.
The human heart wants as much pleasure as it can get for the least amount of work it has to put into it. It’s called the “pleasure principle.” When our children pick up a screen, the pleasure principle starts paying in spades.
It pays off for them because they do not have to do the hard work of socializing with others, or learning to share, compromise, and play by the rules. Their world is their own, and it goes wherever Netflix, Amazon, or YouTube will take them. And it pays off for us too. We do not have to worry about the constant nag for entertainment, the coordination of schedules and events, or the disorder of a well played-in room.
Constantly, our sin sick world invites us to indulge our sin sick heart. But the good news is that the power of the ministry of the word enables us to reign in our appetites for ease (Hebrews 12:1).