Mothering in this generation is a long and beautiful work of stewardship, just as it has been for every generation of mothers before us. We have so many new things to worry over and so much angst about technology and screen time and the dangers that lurk in the world, and rightly so. But every mother since Eve has raised children in a fallen world. We are not in totally new territory.
In my childhood there were countless scoldings over the time I spent on the telephone—connected to the wall, stretched as far away from the rest of the family as possible. My grandparents’s generation worried about the music their kids listened to, and their parents worried about something else. I’m sure that at some point in history there was even a parent who was concerned with “the amount of time kids these days spend with their noses in books.”
From the first radios and televisions in our living rooms to the video games and cells phones in our pockets now, technology has always given parents a run for their money. But do parents have more to worry about now? Or do we just worry, more?
It seems the more we know about the world, the more we fear it.
Do we even remember that the internet is an option, not a requirement?
We are stewards of beautiful and dangerous things. We have to drive safely and eat wisely and consume every available thing—our entertainment and information included—with discernment. In regards to our children and their ever-present screens, the two biggest concerns for most parents are the time spent staring at a device and the content coming through.
Time. What we really want is a chart with checkboxes for parenting, but there are only man-made lists and the resulting comparisons are a trap. If we knew how long so-and-so’s kids spent each day on screens, we’d have a measure to hold ourselves to. And then what? Are we better because we spend less time? Are we worse if we spend more?
These are not the comparisons we need.
The best way to keep a pulse on our screen time is not to fret and wring hands. If I instead ask my older kids to analyze for themselves, I’ve given them a responsibility as a fellow steward. They are persons, image-bearers, containers of a spirit pricked by conscience and able to discern. They have parent-imposed limits for their screen time, but even within those limits I want to be sure they are not neglecting other things—fresh air, exercise, real-life friends, and good, hard work.
Younger kids have greater restrictions and earn more freedom as they show more self-control.
Modeling good screen habits and presenting other opportunities for free time are important. Teach them to play card games with real cards. Buy good art supplies. Invest in hobbies for them and join them in those non-screen activities as much as possible. It annoys my children, but once in awhile I shut the wi-fi off completely and we analyze how we all feel about that. It can be ugly, but boy does it help us evaluate how we use our time.
Considering the addictive nature of the internet, it can be hard to entice their affections away from the constant stimulation of their screens, but we can’t let our kids miss a whole world of beauty and goodness because we’re afraid to pull in the reigns. Helping our kids look at how they spend their time is an important life skill.
Content.God has given us a whole world of wonders to enjoy. We can laugh silly till we snort obnoxious, cry at sentiments so lovely they hurt, think deeply about things outside our own experience, learn new skills and important information, or let our minds relax from the toil of the day and just be. As stewards of a beautiful planet in ruins, part of our responsibility is to see and create and appreciate more beauty. Screens can be an avenue for that.
We can also find all the ugliest aspects of humanity through portals in our hands, and if those things capture us we are no longer stewards, but slaves. Because the internet is forever changing, we have to be committed to staying on top of the dangers. There are many safeguards available (we use the Circle device, by Disney, for filtering and time limits on our home wi-fi), but nothing replaces an involved parent.
Being involved means helping them evaluate the content they’re consuming, and it’s helpful to think of screens in the same way we think about our books—some are helpful and beautiful, some are fluffy entertainment, some are harmful, and all of them convey the worldview of the author.
I want to promote the sense that we are stewards with control over these external things. I want to hold the door open for my kids to show me what is of value on their screens, help them be producers of good content, and teach them how to avoid the inappropriate stuff.
If this all sounds lofty, it is. Often what they’re viewing or playing is just plain dumb to me, but because I’m asking the questions and following them closely, I’ve been blessed by their artful and witty Instagram posts, entertained by silly memes they’ve shared with me, and have been available to help with the inevitable pitfalls we all encounter online.
I wish my kids would choose books or art or outdoor activities more than they do, but we have allowed these devices into our home and the thing to do now is not complain, not ridicule, not worry and make endless rules and threats. Our kids need to know how to be good stewards of their screens. We can help them by checking in, asking the questions, examining our freedom and restraint, and showing them that there is real beauty inside and outside of the internet.
Tresta lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and 4 kids, surrounded by mountains and rivers and the best little community one could ask for. For more thoughts on hospitality and raising engaged kids, check out the post 3 Easy Ways to Shape Minds (without losing yours). Tresta can be found chasing truth, goodness, and beauty at trestapayne.com, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.