The Screen Challenge

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Family, Family and Friendship, Friendship, Jesus' Commandment - To Love as He Loved, Relationships

Here’s a challenge that, if we do it, will actually transform the lives of our families and future generations.

When we’re with other people, turn off our cell phones, iPads, computer screens, video games, TV, and anything else with a screen. Put the screens away. And then, additionally for parents, severely limit our children’s screen time (eliminating it for children under two). Be an example for our children and all children, showing them what it means to connect, communicate, and love. [See action items below.]

Not practical? Impossible? It certainly is a challenge given that the average teenager sends 130 texts a day, the average adult around 50 or 70 a day. That’s around 3500 texts a month, not to mention all the texts received. The online stats and studies vary a bit. Regardless, it’s scary! And if it’s not scary, then it should be.

Too many studies, child psychologists, and family-focused authors show that screens actually decrease and impede connection, success, intelligence, the ability to problem-solve and to get along with others. Research reveals that too much screen time increases anti-social behavior and violence. It inhibits sleep and makes people less focused and more angry. There’s lots of evidence that shows the damaging effects of screens/screen time on the brain, one of which is akin to drug and alcohol addictions. And then there’s the devastating cyber-bullying with social media.

In addition, cell phone usage harms the parent-child relationship. Children think they’re not interesting or important to their parents because their parents check their phones while they are with their children. Children don’t feel loved, so naturally, they act out when their parents are on their screens. Families are losing the art of communication and conversation, largely cultivated at family meals.

We need to be honest with ourselves. Self-knowledge is critical in halting and reversing the negative effects smart-phone usage and social media are having, especially on our youth. About 50% of teenagers—screenagers—feel addicted to their tech devices. How much of our lives is spent on screens, texting, sending instagrams, updating Facebook pages, tweeting, or asking our phone questions it can’t quite decipher? How much do we use a screen as a baby-sitter, as a way to pacify arguing children, as a way to have a quiet dinner? Are we dependent on screens as an easy way out?

And what is the effect of all this? In a nutshell—we’re losing connection; we’re losing love. The way we use screens has created a huge storm mentally, psychologically, emotionally, and physically. And its causing major damage.

We need to still this storm, just like Jesus calmed the tempest-tossed sea. The winds ceased, became calm, when he said, “Peace, be still!” (Mark 4:39). Peace, quiet—silence the beeps, the tweets, the noise. Then we’ll actually be able to connect with people. And it’s deep connection that keeps a relationship strong. True connection simply cannot happen over a screen. You can argue that tech helps you connect, and in a few cases this may be true, like Skyping or Face-timing with grandparents. But that’s about it.

If we really want to save our future; have love in our lives (feel loved and love others); connect with our families; honor, respect, and guide our children; be successful and innovative; feel appreciated and cherished; find and maintain lasting relationships; make a positive difference, then we must make it a priority to communicate face-to-face, heart-to-heart. Machines simply cannot give or receive love. It’s not in their nature.

But it is in our nature to love. That was the entire premise of Jesus’ life—to love, to prove that God is Love, to show others how to love. Love God; “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30, 31); love others, “as I have loved you" (John 13:34). Love, love, love.

So, here are some action items:

  • When we’re eating with our family (which research shows should be daily, and it doesn’t have to be dinner), talk instead of text. Share what was hard about your day, what was great about your day (highs and lows). Have a word of the day. Take a topic and discuss it. Plan a vacation.
  • When in the car, instead of watching a movie, playing video games, or looking up stuff on the Internet, talk with the other people. Play word games. Tell stories.
  • When picking up children from school, help them with the transition from school to home by making them feel loved and important. Ask specific questions like, “What was silly or fun?”
  • When we’re with friends, be with your friends rather than texting the ones who aren’t there. Keep the phones in the pocket or purse.
  • When someone asks you a question, look away from your computer screen and answer that person. Guys, here’s a really good hint for you: girls really need you to look at them in the eyes when you talk. If you’re doing something else, girls don’t think you’re listening.
  • Rather than emailing or texting, call friends so you can hear their voices and better understand their feelings.
  • When you’re out walking your dog, be with your dog in nature. Dogs need connection, too. Take out the headphones. Put away your phone. Connect!

Simply doing these things will make a huge difference! Let’s find as many ways as we can to connect with people, not machines. Machines can’t love us back. But we can love. We can connect. Love is our natural state.

Read the teen screen challenge!