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What would it feel like to see an actual accounting of your daily screen time? Would it match what you say your priorities are, or not so much?
I’m pleased to have my friend Jeremy back to share with you today, and am sure you all will appreciate his honesty on this issue as much as I do . Scroll to the end of the post to see more from him.
I did something on a whim the other day. I’m not exactly sure what led me to do it, but perhaps it was a combination of the following things:
- The angry glances from my wife.
- The feeling of disconnect between those around me.
- The frustration of never having enough time.
- Or maybe it was a simple observation of my son about his dad.
And what was it I did, you ask? Nothing bad, but something that will hopefully lead to a better husband, father and friend.
I downloaded an app for my phone.
But this is no ordinary app! Unlike other apps, this one isn’t designed to suck up more of my time and attention. Instead, this one tracks my phone usage and if need be can even be made to shut it down after a certain amount of time. Although to be honest I haven’t had to enable that feature because I’m still reeling from the initial shock.
What was so shocking? Well, before I reveal that we need to have a little talk about screen time.
If you’re as old as me, you can probably remember a time when the term “screen time” didn’t exist. It’s not that watching too much TV back then wasn’t an issue, but let’s face it, most screens back then weren’t portable and there was only so much you could watch in the living room with the rest of the family.
But in 2007 that changed forever with the invention of the iPhone. And now we all have screens permanently attached to our bodies. Sometimes they’re in our pockets, but if you’re like me it’s usually in your hand, with eyes pointed down as the world around you goes by…
It’s a temptation that’s hard to put down.
I tell myself I’m being responsible by reading the news… but then again, I’ve never read a newspaper for as long as I’ve surfed the net.
And what’s wrong with a five minute long game to stimulate the brain? Nothing, except for the fact that the rush of winning makes it impossible to stop after one game.
Or I find a video to watch, which is no harm – it’s less than five minutes long! But then those darn links pop up at the end and, well… there goes the night!
That doesn’t even scratch the surface. The apps are endless and they’re all begging for my attention. I’d like to think I have the will power to use this technology in a responsible way, with me in control, but the truth is it’s usually the other way around.
I think it goes without saying that the increase of screen time has not been good for us.
Do a cursory search of the effects of prolonged screen time and you can see it all yourself.
Sleep deprivation, obesity, depression, impaired socializing skills, anxiety, lower self-esteem, and higher suicide rates can all be linked to these amazing devices we hold so dear.
And when I say amazing I mean it. They really are.
And this is where it gets tricky, because these things aren’t evil. They are incredibly useful tools that can enhance our lives with their hyper-convenience, access to instant information and endless entertainment.
They can be used to capture and save moments of our lives like never before. And the fact that I always have a copy of the Bible in my pocket at all times can’t be bad, right?
But how can something so great be at times so bad for us? Is there an invisible line that shouldn’t be crossed?
Let’s go back to the Bible to try to answer those questions. While they never had to deal with the use of electronic devices back then, the issue of something good, or permissible, turning into something bad did come up.
Take alcohol, for example, which is never expressly forbidden in the Bible. In fact, it is hard to argue that when Paul, in 1 Timothy 5:23 tells Timothy to “use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” Or that time Jesus salvaged a wedding party by turning water into wine.
On the flip side of that is the Biblical view of drunkenness, which Paul makes abundantly clear in Galatians 5: 19-20. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery…drunkenness… I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Let me make it clear that I am not equating excessive screen time with sinful behavior. That’s not my place. However, I use the example of alcohol to point out that sometimes there are good, or acceptable, things that when used without self-control can become destructive forces in our lives. Finding that invisible line can sometimes, it seems, only be found after we’ve crossed it.
Have we all crossed the line and become intoxicated by our devices, or is it just me?
Much of the focus on screen time is aimed at children, as well it should be since their developing brains are the most vulnerable. However, we would be remiss to forget that one of the greatest influences to young children are the adults who surround them. Which brings it back to me.
How can I moderate the screen time of my children if I can’t moderate my own usage?
Would their limited screen time do any good if they see and learn that when they become an adult the rules will change? For me the answers to those questions are no.
What I found to be so shocking when I first downloaded the app was seeing the back-to-back days with nearly six hours of screen time one day and over five the next.
I’d like to point out that on both of those days I worked eight hour shifts. Adding those numbers together and assuming full nights of sleep, that left me with only a few hours each day to eat, drink, shower…to basically live.
But what about being an attentive father, husband and friend? Well, on those days it seems I gave priority to the games on my phone.
Am I the only one who struggles with too much screen time?
I know I’m not because I hear the stories and see it with my eyes everyday.
If you struggle with this then I challenge you to this: download an app. The specific name doesn’t matter because they’re a dime-a-dozen and most of them are free. Just search “Digital Wellbeing” in your app store and pick one.
When you see the results, use it as an opportunity for sober judgment. If you don’t like what you see, then set some goals and boundaries. If you can’t meet your goals alone, then find someone to hold you accountable. And if all else fails, just throw your phone out the window.
Ok, maybe not that.
For all the trouble our devices might cause, they’re not going away anytime soon. Learning to use and showing our children how to use this technology in a responsible way might be our best bet.
I know some of you already have experience in this territory. If so, I’d love to hear any wisdom or advice in the comments below.
More guest posts from Jeremy: