A lot of adults are very upset there are so many digital screens in so many places today, especially in the hands of teenagers and pre-teens. This frustration and anxiety can manifest itself in multiple ways. In this post, I want to advocate for the idea that our frustration with screens and “screentime challenges” should be articulated to young people not as the message “screens are evil and you are bad when you look at your screen,” but rather encouragement to make balance and intentionality with screens hallmarks of our lives.

As one of the leaders at our school of “Parent University” digital citizenship workshops, I’m very focused and aware of conversations which happen in our community around smartphones, screens, apps, and the overall topic of “digital wellness.” Wellness is vital, and it certainly means both monitoring our screentime and taking steps to insure we’re using our screens in ways which honor our relationships with others and match the values of respect and community which we profess to hold. In December of 2018, I co-presented a Parent University workshop on “ScreenTime and iOS 12 Monitoring” which addressed these topics and practical strategies to help. Next week I’ll again be co-presenting a similar workshop, this time titled, “Let’s Talk About Screentime,” and I’ll add the link to that slideshow to this post when it’s available.

Our words matter, and we should tend carefully to the messages we share with others, especially when emotion is involved and strong feelings. I work with and around a number of people who have STRONG feelings when it comes to screentime. Sometimes, some of these people project the message that:

  1. They wish all the screens and technology around us were not present
  2. They believe life was better “back in the day” because no one had a screen, and everyone just played outside all the time instead of looking at screens when they are bored or sought entertainment
  3. The answer to screentime challenges is to demonize screentime and those who look at screens

Screens, smartphones, and screentime are a fact of life for us today in 2019, just like (at least here in central Oklahoma) driving cars, buying food at the grocery store, and having to go to school at least till you’re 16 but most likely until you graduate from high school. These are realities, these are facts, these are things with which we have to deal. We can make different choices about these things, and we each do in our lives and families, but we still have to deal with them.

Please do not say things to children in private or in public like, “When you look at your screen, you are serving the machine.” An awareness of media literacy is vital, and it’s one of the major themes of the courses I’m teaching this year for our 5th and 6th graders at school. We need to recognize and articulate in our messages about screentime to young people, however, that simply looking at your screen is NOT a sin. Screens are “protean” devices. This means they can be used in diverse ways. With the same smartphone screen, I read verses of Holy Scripture from my YouVersion Bible app, or I could choose to look at something which brings me dishonor and defiles my mind. These are choices, and we all need to tend very closely to the choices we make with our eyes, our ears, and yes… our phones.

The words of Matthew 6:22, from “The Message,” are appropriate in this context:

“Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!

Matthew 6:22 MSG

Please attend carefully to the words and messages you share with others around you when it comes to screentime. Screens present many challenges, but they also provide wonderful opportunities. Let’s avoid demonizing both screens and those who wield them (that means all of us, by the way) when we talk about screentime. It’s a huge challenge to balance all the demands in our lives today, digital as well as analog, and digital wellness is an important issue for adults as well as young people. Let’s grapple together with these issues and work to honor our relationships and our values. Living lives of balance and thoughtful intention should be our goal, not looking for an easy scapegoat. “The screen” is not our enemy, it’s a powerful tool with which and about which we need to each make careful digital choices.

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