(photos from blueberry picking several weeks ago)
Part One: Our Contribution (Light in the Darkness)
My husband makes a living doing web and graphic design; by default our home is relatively tech-friendly. I appreciate the good that technology offers, but the downside is that I am apparently a highly suggestible person and when he's parked at the kitchen island working on his computer I somehow find myself sitting there staring at the tablet. What? Isn't this what we're doing right now? Sigh. As parents, we set the tone for our family. Do I really want the image of my face illuminated by the glowing screen of my phone to be their memory of me from their childhood? That thought terrifies me. I am trying to communicate to them what a healthy relationship with technology looks like.
As a foundation for why you should care about these things, I'll start by pointing you to this article written by my pastor's wife, Katherine, about media use, as she's already said so many things better than I could have: Meditation or Mediation: the Power of Meditation to Live in the Moment. At the very least, overuse of media wastes time and causes us to fail to be fully present to our children and to our own lives. With all of the busyness that is already natural to a family, the last thing we need is another thing capitalizing our time. While I'm glued to something on my phone for the fourth time in a day, my house isn't getting any cleaner and my kids aren't getting any better behaved. It adds to the sense of chaos.
I've talked about the importance of carefully considering my contributions, and my rule for consumption is basically the same: not too much, and make it worthwhile. Start with your personal usage (I'll talk children and media in part three).
Not too much: If you feel like your family is too wrapped up in media, don't make the mistake of thinking you can just aim for more moderation without clarity about what exactly that looks like. It won't happen. I have to spell things out for myself. I give myself guidelines, things like: only check certain social media once a day, fast on Sundays, avoid screens while kids are awake (I admit I'm really bad at this even though it really matters to me). Control how you interact with media rather than being controlled by it. Decide what your ideal relationship with technology would look like and write it down. Now you have something to aim for. Don't let society dictate this for you.
Make it worthwhile: Be guided by Phillipians 4:8. . .
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
I want to make good use of my time by consuming content and watching shows that inspire me creatively, imaginatively, vocationally or spiritually. Do research, learn new skills, thank God for your community (pray for them), read well-written articles. So many life-giving things can be seamlessly incorporated into your technology usage: download the She Reads Truth and Daily Prayer apps. Follow Wisdom of the Fathers on instagram. Start by seeking the best and you might find you don't even have time for less worthy stuff.
At the end of the day, "if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. . ." (Matthew 18:9). If you feel it is impossible for you to maintain a healthy relationship with your smart phone or television, absolutely just get rid of it. Decide what is important to you and act on it.
Three random but related thoughts/hints:
1. Kicking a real screen addiction: I have found it incredibly helpful to have a project or a book going at all times. During downtime when I would be tempted to grab my phone and surf, I pick up a knitting project or an enjoyable book instead. It is really hard to kick a bad habit if you have nothing to replace it with. You can also turn you smart phone "dumb" by deleting all apps including your web browser, and you can turn your phone to grayscale (black and white) to lessen the whole dopamine response thing that happens when you look at your brightly-colored screen.
2. Phone use while nursing: I will start this thought by admitting that I am oh so guilty of this, but the behavior really worries me. I worry about it taking up time that I could use to pray, think or read. I worry about my baby glancing up and seeing me looking at my phone instead of at him. I worry about what crazy things are happening when I'm staring at my phone during that rush of oxytocin during letdown that is supposed to help me bond to my baby, and how that might further complicate an addiction to technology!
3. The need to "zone out": I have heard it suggested that over the course of a busy and sometimes overwhelming day (or at the end of it, after the children have gone to sleep) we need to, or at least it feels good to, just zone out on something mindless (the suggestion being endless Facebooking or junk TV). May I suggest that this form of escapism won't actually make you feel better, but in fact (especially if you do it regularly during the day) will make you feel much worse when you come back to a reality that has only further devolved while you've been distracted? You will not have accomplished anything by way of concrete things that would make you less stressed (the irony, of course, being that the more stressed we are the more we want to escape for a moment, and yet it's so very counterproductive) or by way of personal growth (like praying or reading a book) that will make you feel better prepared to rise up to your vocation. Someone once told me that their grandmother, when she was a mother in the thick of it, would throw her apron over her head if she got overwhelmed, and her children knew not to bother her because she was praying. Sure, when she emerged the dishes might still be dirty, but at least she had the renewed help of the Spirit. At the end of the day, yes, you need to relax. Knit and meditate. Consume an inspiring movie. Talk to your husband while you share a pint of chocolate Haagen Dazs in the kitchen.