“My son, do not lose sight of these—keep sound wisdom and discretion,
and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck.”
– Proverbs 3:21-22, ESV
I am a morning person. I love to wake up when the house is still quiet and tip-toe downstairs to brew my pour-over coffee. I then proceed to my leather chair with my Bible and stack of books. My favorite mornings are in the summer when the sun is rising, the birds are chirping, and the family is sleeping in.
Or at least they are supposed to be…
Last summer, I found it extremely difficult to get up before everyone else. I would sneak past the bedrooms and down the creaky stairs, into the kitchen, to start the water for my coffee. Yet, while I stood in the kitchen assuming I had risen before everyone else, I would hear the faint sound of voices. The kind of voices that seemed to be coming through small device speakers, slightly muffled, yet conveying some kind of pitchy energy over a crazy stunt or selfie-video showing off.
My kids (at least one of them, but sometimes two or three) would get up earlier than any kid should in the summer just to grab a cell phone, tablet or laptop. Like some kind of cyberspies, they hacked through our passwords or remembered them from the one time they looked over our shoulder, and voila they were in! I would find them by following the sound only to discover them curled up on the side of the couch, in the basement, or in their closet with the doors closed.
Talk about feeling like I was living with a bunch of addicts! They would sacrifice sweet sleep to take a hit before dawn and then slither into small places to feed their craving in hopes of not getting caught. This is when I decided to get to the bottom of the screen time addiction. Was this just innocent entertainment or had they truly become dependent on devices?
What is the right amount of screen time a kid should have?
The New York Presbyterian Hospital research team reports that nearly half of all children 8 and under have their own tablet device. The Percentage only gets higher at 12 years old, and nearly every 16-year-old and above own their own device. That is millions of personally owned devices in the hands of our kids! The issue isn’t just about kids having these devices in the first place, it is about what they do with them.
With reports that kids nowadays spend an average of about 2.25 hours a day on digital screens, we need to consider what impact this time and devices are having on our kids. Let’s look at the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to screen time.
Screen time can have many positive benefits for children. In a world saturated by screens, kids need to know how to use and operate the technology that will inevitably become a part of their adult life. The bright spots that screen time offers kids are:
- Connectivity: They can connect with parents, teachers, relatives, and friends over a device that used to cost a lot of money or take time. Now, with the press of a button, they can connect with anyone, anywhere.
- Technology: Their technology navigation skills and overall tech know-how increased as they work on screens. This is a vital skill to make it in our ever-advancing world .
- Exposure: It allows them to see things without traveling or leaving the comfort of home.
- Learning: There is a wealth of educational content delivered on screens, but it takes careful curation by us, as parents, to ensure our kids are accessing good content, not negative content. They can learn good or bad things.
- Tracking: Healthy behaviors, such as reading, learning, and practicing can be tracked with the use of apps. For instance, kids can track their reading minutes, employ step counters, or encounter daily inspirational messages that support their faith and spirituality.
- Reasoning: Parents have to remember that kids aren’t equipped with the skills needed to critically assess different types of screen content. Parents and proper guidelines or safeguards can help children to learn how to make wise decisions.
All of the good certainly could also be used for bad. Screens are not sinful in and of themselves. What we do with them can be. Job 4:8 says, “According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it.”
Although there are many positive aspects of screen time that parents can encourage children to enjoy, there is certainly a negative side to screen time. We can “sow iniquity” that will reap a lifetime of “trouble harvest” if we are not careful with our devices.
Some of the negative effects of screen time include:
- Impact on sleep, attention, and mood: According to the U.S. Library of Medicine, too much screen time can lead to unhealthy sleep patterns, attention and focus issues, mood disturbances, and increases the risk for obesity.
- Change in brain development: The brain is still developing until the age of twenty-one and research has shown that screen time can significantly slow or change a child’s brain.
- Less time engaged in healthier habits: Childhood is a time for exploring and interacting with the world. Screen time can steal the time for skill-building by limiting a child’s engagement in playing outside, reading, riding a bike, building a fort or playing at the park.
While not all of the content accessible to children is negative, much of it is simply a waste of precious time for them to enjoy the days of being a child. Curating your child’s engagement and investment in screen time can help lead them in the way of Christ as their minds are exposed to content that will help and not hinder their faith journey.
The Internet, for all its good, does certainly brim with mature content that offers nothing positive to children or adults. Moreover, it’s amazingly easy for even our youngest kids to access it. Some of the ugly impacts of too much screen time include:
- Exposure to harmful content: Studies suggest the age of children’s first exposure to pornography is eight years old since the increased access to platforms like YouTube. Having unlimited, unmonitored connection with devices can be an open door for content that is harmful and damaging for your child.
- Cyberbullying: With more opportunities to bully and harass one another, kids in this generation are facing the painful challenge of bullying extending well past the schoolyard and into their homes through their devices.
- Online predators: With the anonymity that screens can offer, it is impossible to know who is on the other side of a device. Too much access and unlimited use can leave our children vulnerable.
It only gets easier for kids to access questionable content online as they get older because they often understand how to navigate devices better than their parents. As parents, we can’t afford to simply shrug our shoulders and give up so easily. To not fight for your child’s innocence is to abdicate your God-given responsibility as a parent. You simply cannot be passive about your children’s screen time. You must take an active role in protecting your kids from bad actors or content that’s simply too mature for young eyes. This isn’t just your kid’s mind at stake – it’s their future marriage (if they do get married), their perspective on love and relationships, and most importantly, what they believe is permissible and not sinful in the eyes of our Creator God.
I Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be misled. Bad company corrupts good character.” When we think that the screen isn’t affecting our kids, we must think again.
There are undoubtedly good, bad, and ugly aspects of screen time. However, being a fully engaged, Gospel-centered parent who actively disciples your child is the best way to help them grow in their faith and future as a follower of Jesus. Screens are rarely the problem. How we engage with and what we allow ourselves to engage with on our screens is often the greatest battleground for your child’s heart and faith. Stay strong, stay present.
What role have you taken in your kid’s access to and engagement with screens? In what ways can you be more present and aware of what they are doing on devices?
Hi Josh, Thank you for this article. I am navigating this season presently, and I am aware that media without good boundaries can take someone’s life over, not just kids. I would love to read more articles or how you have kept good borders with your kids. I am currently; sounding cheesy and hopefully not to old testament here; developing a media guide for my son. e.g., how much time a week, weekend, how much he can spend towards it, boundaries, non-negotiables also stating why and even incentives when he plays less or will choose to spend less I’ll contibute money towards his savings. I think he will like it as I am usually dodging his questions with I’ll ask dad. I have also found; that some of his friends play permissions above their age. They play violent games or horror etc. As a Christian, I wouldn’t even know where to start with how much I see that I believe isn’t of God through media. However, I agree it goes back to discipleship and teaching and modelling our children. God bless you and your family.