Sep 14

Q&A: Screen Time and Your Small Child

2017 at 8:24 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Motherhood

Q: How do I cut back on my children’s screen time? My children are four and six, and I keep reading reports about the dangerous effects of too much screen time, but I don’t know how to get through a day without their TV shows, or how to get errands done or go out to eat without using a device. Any advice you have would be most appreciated.

When you are caring for small children, the days can feel like they are forty hours long. Your children’s needs are so constant, your energy is so low, and screen time is so there. One half-hour show turns into three. You can’t get through the grocery store without pulling out a device. Then the guilt crashes in.

But how much screen time is too much and what can we do about it? One of the most potent dangers of screen time is how easy and accessible it is, which means that as mothers, we need to be all the more intentional and deliberate in how we regulate our children’s use of electronic devices. We can’t just slide into screen time. But neither can we make mothering decisions in reaction to the latest dire report or because Melissa Gates said so. If we’re going to parent with peace and resolve, we must start with God’s Word. In order to evaluate our child’s screen time biblically, we need to ask ourselves: What is our biblical responsibility as parents and how does screen time contribute or detract from that God-given responsibility?

As Christian parents, our responsibility is simple: We are to “bring [our children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

This means, first of all, that we must teach our children God’s commands. What does this look like? Deuteronomy 6 paints the picture: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (6: 6-7). In other words, our motherly teaching from God’s Word—not Curious George or My Little Pony—should be the primary content filling our children’s days. So let’s take our child’s screen time and hold it up next to Deuteronomy 6 for a moment. Do God’s commands or the PBS Kids lineup comprise the bulk of our child’s educational diet? Which characters fill our child’s imagination and who do they talk about—the Octonauts or the Creator of all the creatures of land and sea? Can our children sing more TV intros than they can recite Scripture verses? Answers to questions like these will expose those hidden areas of excess screen time.

Second, we must train our children to obey God’s commands. Our primary mission in the early years of mothering is to train our children to listen to and follow our commands—immediately, completely, and cheerfully—so they will, by the grace of God, learn how to follow the Lord with all their hearts and reap the blessings of obedience. Start here, and screen time decisions get real clear real fast. How much screen time is too much? If our child spends more time on a device than in “Mom’s School of Obedience” it’s too much time, simple as that. When is it appropriate to give our child a device? If we hand our child a tablet every time they fuss or put them in front of a show whenever they get wild, we are, in fact, rewarding disobedience, and undermining the whole operation. Now, please know, it is not wrong to let your child play an app while you chat with the in-laws or to watch an extra hour or two of television when you get the flu. But if screen time has eclipsed training time, or become a tool for manipulation, we must prayerfully reevaluate its place in our home.

Maybe you already know. Yep, I’ve let my kids have too much screen time and I feel terrible about it. We’ve all stumbled in many ways as parents, but we must never let our pride to get in the way of serving our children. If we have trusted in Christ for salvation, we can acknowledge our parenting failures, receive God’s forgiveness and grace to change, and parent—guilt free—from this day forward. And be assured: It is possible to wean your child from excess screen time without losing your mind. Here are a few practical ideas:

1. Start small. If you try to remove all devices all at once, you will regret it big time. The more heavily you have relied upon screen time to fill the hours and smooth the rough spots in your day, the longer the weaning process may take. So start small. Choose one time and place (home, at first) to go sans device. Eat this elephant one bite at a time.

2. Replace screen time with special time. Instead, of suddenly declaring to your unsuspecting children—“That’s it, no more screen time!”—tell them it is time for something new and exciting. Get out a new toy or check out some new books from the library. Hand them a drink, their favorite stuffed animal, and tuck them into a special reading corner. Instead of a morning date with their favorite show, have art time with crayons and a coloring book. Develop a plan ahead of time and make it fun and special. Give it a “name” and be excited about it. Maybe even set a timer and train them to stick with a single activity for a few more minutes each day. And when you leave the house, pack a bag of go-to activities or treats. You can also replace the background noise of the television with stories and songs that teach God’s Word.

3. Don’t give up. If things don’t go well at first, this should only confirm your original suspicions that a change was sorely needed! So don’t get discouraged, but persevere. It takes time to replace a bad habit with a good one. And it requires consistent training. Maybe you need to plan trips to the grocery store where the only purpose is training them to get through without screen time. Maybe, after dinner, you have your children practice sitting quietly with a few books for ten extra minutes, so that eventually (the operative word, here) you can go out to a peaceful dinner as a family. Whatever you do, stick with it, and you will, after many days, reap the rewards.

4. Give screen time a set time. When you do let your children use a device or watch a show, be deliberate and intentional. Choose a time each day—like when you need to make dinner, or help another child with homework—and teach them to sit still with their device for a specific amount of time. Thus, screen time becomes part of their obedience training and gives you that needed break as well.

5. Don’t freak out in an emergency. If your child starts getting restless in the middle of a long ceremony, or if you are out of milk and Tylenol and your little one is snotty and fussy, by all means, hand your child a device and thank God for the blessings of technology. You can get back to teaching and training in the morning.

Parenting is hard, but our God-given parenting responsibilities come with his grace which fulfills “every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power” (2 Thess. 1:11, emphasis mine). With the Spirit’s help, we can resist the siren call of screen time and teach and train our children to love and follow God’s commands.

Sep 7

An Important Rule for Peace

2017 at 8:11 am   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Trusting God | Friendship

It’s a commonly accepted truth: the older you get, the less you care about what others think about you. This can be a good thing, ushering in a new freedom from timidity and self-focus. Or it can take an unhealthy turn, leading to bad hair-dye jobs, unfortunate wardrobe choices, or—more seriously—unkind or selfish behavior toward others. As Christian women, we should not simply drift into a middle-aged indifference toward the opinions of others. We should be deliberate to shed our sinful preoccupation of what others think of us—and the earlier the better—so that we can be free to run our lives in an all out sprint for the glory of God. How can we shed the oppressive and excessive care of what others think of us—whether we are twenty-five or sixty-five?

A few years ago, I came across this valuable nugget of advice from a nineteenth-century pastor named Charles Simeon: “My rule is—never to hear, or see, or know, what if heard, or seen, or known, would call for animadversion from me. Hence it is that I dwell in peace in the midst of lions.” I had to look up “animadversion”: it means “criticism or censure.” Simeon is saying that he made it a rule never to hear (or see or know) anything that had a detrimental effect on his soul. This is how he maintained the peace of Daniel in the midst of “lions” who spoke evil of him.

Whether we are in the lion’s den or green pastures, a young woman or well into middle-age, we would do well to make it our rule never to imagine or attempt to find out what other people are thinking or saying about us. And in case you need convincing, all you have to do is consider what happens when you don’t follow this rule. Think with me for a moment about the consequences of worrying about what others think or say.

For starters, it is a futile exercise. As much as we would like to believe otherwise, we can’t control another person’s opinions or actions. Being suspicious about someone won’t change that person. And if we try to find out if our suspicions are true—asking around or even asking the person directly—we may end up wondering if we are getting accurate information, which only leads to more suspicion. Or, if we happen to get our suspicions confirmed, then we feel worse. So you see, it’s a fruitless and futile effort that leads nowhere good.

It’s also a destructive exercise. Trying to control what others think and say about us hurts, and we are the ones who get hurt. Long before Charles Simeon, the wise teacher of Ecclesiastes said: “Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you” (7:21). If we put our ear to the keyhole, we’re probably going to hear things we wish we hadn’t heard, and words have a penetrating effect on our souls. We all probably remember unkind words spoken to us by others that still come back with fresh emotion—which is why we would do well not to go looking for more of this kind of thing. It’s out there, to be sure, but why try to find it, if it only makes us miserable? “If all men knew what each other said of the other there would not be four friends in the world,” wrote Blaise Pascal. In other words, there is something to be said for the idea that ignorance is bliss.

Thirdly, to suspiciously search out any bad word against us is a hypocritical exercise. To our shame, we must admit that we have thought and said unkind things about other people—even those we love the most. Ecclesiastes calls us out in the very next verse: “Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others” (7:22). How many times have we resented the more beautiful woman, criticized the boss, felt superior to a fellow-mom, judged a family member, or laughed at someone’s embarrassing moment? When we remember our own failures, we are humbled. Our case for justice crumbles in light of our sinful, hypocritical tendencies.

Investigating or speculating on the opinions of others is an arrogant exercise, for it starts with a false and puffed up assessment of who we really are. This is why, as Charles Spurgeon says, “It is always best not to know nor wish to know, what is being said about you, either by friends or foes. Those who praise us are probably as much mistaken as those who abuse us.” The impulse to elicit encouragement or stamp out criticism comes from an arrogant and inflated view of ourselves. The humble woman does not look for encouragement or fear criticism because her self-assessment already agrees with the apostle Paul’s: “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15).

Finally, to be consumed with what other people think about us is a self-focused exercise. Spurgeon again: “It is a crime to be taken off from your great object of glorifying the Lord Jesus by petty consideration as to your little self, and, if there were not other reason, this ought to weigh much with you.” As if all the previous reasons weren’t enough, this ought to motivate us to give up our selfish speculations once and for all. We were not saved from our sins so that we could spend our lives in “petty consideration” of what others think of our little selves. We were saved to bring glory to God: “and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15).

Whether we are a teenage girl going to a new school or a grandmother moving into a new retirement community, let’s make it our rule—starting today—never to hear, or see, or know what would wreck our peace and take our eyes off of our main object, to glorify God. Instead of wondering what others think about us, let’s ask ourselves: “How can I glorify God today?” Then, we too will dwell in peace.