I can’t quit you, smartphone.
I keep thinking we should see other people, and an hour later I’m cradling you in my hands again, whispering sweet nothings.
And you, Netflix—why you gotta be that way? I send my kids to you for a couple of shows and they come back to me like angry wasps.
Oh, the love-hate, freedom-compulsion of life with the screens… I’m deep in it, and we’re not even to the stage where my kids’ peers have devices. It’s a mixed bag, for sure:
Pro: I can keep up with everything on my phone! Con: Same.
I have a tendency to get sucked into more screen time than I meant—which makes me cranky.
It’s fun. We like fun.
Having a quiet 22 minutes while the kids watch a show? A glory like no other.
It’s delicious to use a shiny, fast, new phone.
Rotten to see that new device barreling toward obsolesce before it’s even out of the package.
Parents giveth, and parents taketh away.
Fear not: this won’t be a lecture about screen addiction with a side of parental guilt. It’s also not going to get you misty-eyed about holding your precious babies while they’re still babies, life is short, etc. It’s just one ambivalent screen-using parent trying to tell another where I’ve gotten some peace…and where I’m still struggling.
I know, I know; I can sound like I’m not a friend of technology. I’m bound up in rules and law. Hand-wringing is my specialty; lighthearted trust is a tougher gig for me. Sometimes I look at my pile of rules and guilt and limits, and wonder what all that is teaching my kids about the life-changing, liberating love of Jesus. Or what it’s teaching me, for that matter.
But my smartphone and I have found some common ground—it actually can be a helpful tool for the spiritual life, and an asset to family harmony. Stop laughing!
When I’m using my phone around my kids, I try to let them know what I’m up to: hang on a second, please, I need to answer this message from so-and-so. I want to finish reading this article.
Sure, yeah, of course—sometimes I put the thing down. If what I’m doing on my phone is zoning out, it may be time for me to turn it off and come to. It’s also okay to say, “You know, I’m looking at something for fun right now. I can help you with that in a few minutes.”
I think that’s a little bit of Sabbath teaching. Lots of us parents have a hard time believing the world will keep turning if we sit down for a second. It might also be helpful for your little one to learn you’re not here to cater to their every whim or question (that expired in the first year, right?). Hey, sometimes Mom gets a little down time. That’s good for everybody.
When our kids play on a phone or computer, we set a timer. Streaming their favorite shows is easy to measure: you can watch one episode, or two. (Please don’t ask me how faithfully we adhered to these intentions during the Winter of 1000 Snow Days.)
So yes, we use time to measure our screens, but…here’s the little crack of grace…our screens also help me keep time.
I love the “Bedtime” feature on the iPhone, with its reminder to hit the hay. I set my wake-up time for early morning (the time of day I’m least likely to be disturbed) to help there be a place for prayer in my day.
A meditation app has helped me find contemplative time regularly. It tracks how many consecutive days you meditate. No shame—that’s a big motivator for me! I know Jesus loves me (and probably laughs at my run streak) but I need all the help I can get being still and present to that truth. God can work even through my competitive side. Mini meditations for children make a great alternative to a time out. There are lots of other prayer aids—apps and podcasts for the daily office, centering prayer, Ignatian prayer, guided meditation, sacred music.
When I use my phone for prayer, I put it in “do not disturb” mode so I won’t receive texts, calls, or other notifications. If I’m not alone, headphones visually reinforce the space I need to be contemplative…which has even worked in the car (passenger seat!) on family road trips with the kids.
Summer may bring terror or delight, depending on your household’s mix of parental occupations, children’s ages, school schedules, proximity to family, VBS/affordable day camp offerings in your town, roaming-friendly neighborhoods or woods, vacation feasibility. Odds are, your family is dealing with some blocks of unstructured time.
Today is a new day, fresh with God’s mercies.
How do you claim the time you need for your spirit when school’s out?
How do screens make that easier or tougher?