By Meg Gemelli, Crosswalk.com
“How was your week?” I ask. My friend, a public school teacher who’s still dressed in her work clothes, plops on to a bar stool at my kitchen counter. It’s 6:30 at night and our women’s small group is about to start. She looks like she could fall asleep sitting up, if left alone for a quiet minute.
“My class this year is tooooouuugh,” she responds. “I don’t mean to complain, but I seriously can’t figure out how to get through to some of my boys. The little girls are having their usual second-grade tiffs, but the boys… all they want to talk about is Call of Duty and Fortnite--even while I’m trying to teach a lesson. They don’t pay attention to anything.”
I’d heard of Call of Duty before--a first person war game geared toward adults--but she lost me at Fortnite. My kids didn’t have access to video games yet… and luckily, they hadn’t really asked.
“How do they know about Call of Duty already? Older siblings?” I ask. “They’re only eight years old.”
She opens her eyes wide and throws frustrated hands in the air. “No! The parents let them play! You wouldn’t believe it. These boys spend hours upon hours in front of a screen doing nothing but killing people. They’re like zombies in class, distracted and bored from being stimulated all night playing. Paper and pencil can’t compete.”
Visibly upset, she continues.
“I cry over these kids. True story: our school nurse held a parent meeting and instructed that kids should play no more than four hours of video games a day. FOUR HOURS a day!”
“Why even that many?” I wonder out loud. I can’t wrap my head around a school nurse advising four hours of inactive gaming to elementary-aged kids and their families.
“She says the national average is seven hours, so four is a small step in the right direction. How a kid can manage seven hours of TV or ipad, or whatever, is beyond me.
Say we get out of school at three in the afternoon. You’d have to stare at a screen from three to 10 pm to rack up seven hours… and do nothing else, not even break to eat. It’s depressing. My class wasn’t as bad about gaming last year. I’m not sure what changed with this group.”
In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines for the appropriate exposure of children to media. Here are their recommendations:
Children less than 18 months of age: minimal to no exposure to media of any type.
Eighteen months to age two: minimal exposure, including only quality, educational programming while viewed and discussed interactively with an adult.
Ages two to five years: no more than one hour per day of quality, interactive programming, viewed with an adult. Concepts learned via these media sources are ideally reinforced through conversations at mealtime, before bed, and during play times, etc.
Ages six years and older: parents should strictly enforce consistent time limits on all sources of media including video games, television shows, movies, news programming, and others. Families should discuss how to behave online, important safety measures, and the appropriateness of each activity related to age.
Teenagers: parents should expect that teens will interact with media, but tech free hours, restricted zones around the home, and media-limited family activities are encouraged. Boundaries should be set for amount of time spent, safety, and appropriateness.
Media privileges should be revoked if used inappropriately. At that time, a parent is encouraged to take the opportunity to instruct their teen, and to establish a plan for him or her to correct future behavior.
These are the general media recommendations given by some of the most educated and experienced pediatricians in the country, but how picky should each of us be as Christian parents with our own kids?
Here are three questions we can ask to begin these important conversations at home.
1. Is my kid ready and able to handle the responsibility of media use?
“For we are each responsible for our own conduct.” (Galatians 6:5)
One of my little guys is lost in the tale of a seafaring boy and his pirate crew. He’s never been able to peel himself away from an interesting plot, but his TV time is up.
After repeating his name for the third time, I grab the remote, fading the screen to black with one click. “Hey!” He exclaims with a turn of his head. But noticing that his mom was the one responsible, he accepts it with a sigh.
Meanwhile, little brother is nowhere to be found. I discover him building with blocks in the playroom. He can’t be bothered to hold still long enough to watch an entire movie, but the same couldn’t be said if I’d handed him a tablet. Allowing him control of a game right in front of his eyes holds his attention like a dog with a new bone.
My kids are different from one another, and so are yours. Only you can discern how he or she is wired via the help of Holy Spirit. The question isn’t, “What should my child be allowed to do based on age?” Instead, our determining factors should be trustworthiness, maturity level, and readiness. With those factors in mind, is your child ready to watch the news or play minecraft?
Independent of what their peers are doing, what fellow parents allow, and even despite the advice of some teachers, parental discretion rules. Only you and God know your child well enough to determine which types of media, if any, your young one is ready to absorb.
2. What do I want my children to understand at this age? How am I using media to teach it?
“We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia.” (2 Corinthians 1:8)
“Mom, did you just see that on the news? That man is so gross. He touched a lady’s bottom and the police arrested him. Can you believe he did that at a gas station?”
I quickly scan the room with raised eyebrows, finding my husband who’s currently engrossed in an article he’s reading online. “Honey, can you shut that off, please? I can’t monitor it while I’m cooking and you’re not paying attention at the moment.”
He obliges with apologies, and I spend the next five minutes with our nine-year-old discussing the importance of respecting other people’s bodies. We dive into the implications of broken trust between men, women, families, and friends. It’s a great lesson learned, but one that I hadn’t been prepared for while flipping eggs at the stove.
The New Testament writer, Paul, made sure to inform fellow believers about his own dangerous experiences via his letters to the church. He didn’t spare the gritty details either. Instead, he used the truth to prepare them. He also instructed leaders on how to handle the challenges they would encounter as followers of Jesus.
Similarly and when parent-guided, media can serve as a tool to prepare our children for real life. Increasing social awareness, understanding world issues, working on skills related to education and work training, and engaging families in shared activities are just a few examples.
There is value in exposing youth to important issues via media outlets and online programming. However, this is only true for those who are mature enough to absorb the lesson.
3. What real life experience is your child missing out on while immersed in an inactive viewing experience?
“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” Mark Twain
I love this quote for so many reasons, but to start, Twain calls the inactive learner to a life of responsibility. He reminds us of what a gift the skill of reading is, but how ultimately, we have to use it to reap its benefits.
What would it sound like to creatively apply his observation to the world of media? Loosely imagined, it could go something like this:
If you can’t experience the world in first person, only then, view it through the lens of another man’s camera to gain understanding.
When family is too far away to hold, only then, use online options to show them that you care.
When you want to open your child’s eyes to the unfair realities of the world, start with real life… like the hungry child down the street.
If you or your child’s school doesn’t have resources to teach students a hands on-lesson, only then, find a way to implement technology as a supporting method of learning.
Simply put, real life doing is more advantageous than experiencing from a distance or not at all. It’s true--physical presence always requires more effort than engaging with media does. We have to actually go out and do it.
These are some heavy statements, I understand. So please hear me when I insist that there’s nothing wrong with using media as a means of entertainment and fun once in awhile too. In fact, my family has a special ritual that we enjoy every couple of months.
After we’ve read the entire book out loud to one another, we watch the movie that’s been adapted from our story. We throw a viewing party and the kids excitedly anticipate our next night together with every turn of a page. It’s so much fun!
The catch however, is something that we must never forget: A real life experience is always exchanged for time in front of a screen.
Something has to give, because we can’t do both at the same time. We go from active participants, to inactive, as our minds enter the TV or computer-projected world in front of us.
The media exchange is personal, so what real life activity does your child exchange for each hour of entertainment: relationship building, exercise, community events, free play, sightseeing, or quality time?
Minutes really do add up to hours, and hours to days. The work of parenting is our amazing opportunity to make the world come alive for the young and beautifully malleable minds entrusted to each of us.
The question we must all ask ourselves is this: how will I honor God with this gift of raising kids, and how will my family utilize media for good?
Choose well, church. And be encouraged, knowing that you don’t have to travel the road alone.
Lord, we thank you for the fantastic responsibility we have in parenting. When we’re tired, overwhelmed, or feeling lost when it comes to our kids, renew and strengthen us. Be the God of a sound mind and peaceful soul, and order our steps according to Your word. We thank you for our children and pray that you would protect and guide us as we do the same for them. Send us helpers, Lord, in our most challenging times raising kids. We love you, and in Jesus’ name we pray these things. Amen.
Meg Gemelli is a Marriage and Family Therapist. Earns Crossfit participation trophies. Disaster cook. Thankful wife to Pete. Boy mom. Faith over fear all day long. For more on relationships, join Meg at www.theMakingofaMarriage.com.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Ridofranz