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THE ROAD TO EASTER: Is it possible to limit screen time for the kids?

February 23, 2018
By REV. DEREK HANSEN - Adirondack Community Church , Lake Placid News

Growing up, I remember getting up on Sunday mornings, ruffling through the newspaper - the only one we got all week - looking for the TV Topics.

My brother and sister and I would look through the TV listings and plan what we were going to watch that week. There was only one hard and fast screen time rule in our house: no TV on school nights. If we wanted to watch something that aired Monday through Thursday, we had to program the VCR to record, then wait for the weekend.

The world has changed. My wife and I have three kids, ages 5, 4, and 2. They can all navigate a smartphone well enough to find pictures and videos. Any show they want is on demand. VCRs are long gone, and even DVRs are becoming obsolete.

Raising children in this "on demand" world has its concerns and anxieties. How do we teach them patience? How do we limit screen media consumption in healthy ways? How do we connect as a family without screens involved? Is it even possible? Soon we'll be learning how to navigate our children's use of social media. There are no easy answers.

We're in the season of Lent. Most of us associate this season with sacrifices, fasts, or giving up something. Some of the most popular choices include chocolate and other sweets, social media, fast food, and coffee. It is good to detach from certain things in order to nurture our spiritual lives. In many religious traditions, sacrifices and fasting are understood to increase our reliance on a higher power.

But detaching from something is not enough. Each Lent, I also challenge members of my congregation to attach to something else, like a new spiritual practice. For example, many Christians who fast set aside the money they would have spent on food to give to the poor.

Regularly detaching from technology and attaching in other ways is a good practice for families with young and school-aged children. That means being intentional and disciplined about detaching from screens for specific periods of time (even putting the smartphones away to avoid the impulse grab for which I am often guilty) and being present with each other in different ways.

For example, we can institute a screen fast by designating one screen free evening a week, or part of a weekend, or a whole 24-hour period. But don't just detach. Attach. Be fully present, valuing each moment. Talk to each other. Take a short trip. Make something. Get out in nature. Read together.

We can also redeem technology use in certain ways. For example, my family has been using the Share the Meal smartphone app through the UN World Food Programme. It costs 50 cents to feed a child for a day in impoverished, often high conflict, parts of the world. As we sit down for a meal each day, we open the app, click a few times to give, and share our meal with children in need. The power of technology! Additionally, we can choose movies and TV programs that lead to healthy and helpful family conversations. In our house, some limited video game time becomes an opportunity to work together, solve problems, and have fun together.

I have come a long way from checking the TV listings in the Sunday paper. The world is a different place. Like most things, technology is beneficial in moderation. We all struggle to find the right balance through trial and error. The pattern of detaching and attaching has been helpful for my family, and I hope it blesses yours.

(Derek Hansen serves as pastor of the Adirondack Community Church. He, his wife, Becky and their three children moved to Lake Placid in August 2017.)



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